Bronchitis

Although acute bronchitis is common, usually developing from a viral upper respiratory infection, chronic bronchitis can be serious, potentially affecting lung function. The multidisciplinary Pulmonary & Critical Care Medicine team at the University of Michigan has the expertise to properly diagnose and comprehensively treat all forms of bronchitis, including COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease), the number 3 leading cause of death in the U.S.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carries air to the lungs. There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis – generally caused by a virus, lasting up to three weeks and generally clearing up with simple at-home care.
  • Chronic bronchitis – considered chronic when there is a daily cough that brings up sputum (mucus) for three consecutive months, two years in a row. Chronic bronchitis is a form of COPD.

COPD is a chronic lung disease that generally includes emphysema and/or chronic bronchitis, two different diseases that are most often (but not always) caused by smoking. COPD causes obstruction to airflow, making it difficult to empty your lungs. Read more about COPD, or visit the COPD Foundation website.

Bronchitis Symptoms

  • Cough with or without mucus
  • Low-grade fever
  • Muscle ache
  • Fatigue

While most acute bronchitis is caused by viruses, chronic bronchitis is ultimately most often caused by cigarette smoking, and can involve bacteria, viruses or both.  People exposed heavily to second-hand smoke, or dusty or chemical-fume-heavy work environments can also be at risk for chronic bronchitis.

Diagnosing Bronchitis

Even acute bronchitis should be taken seriously, as it can lead to pneumonia in some people. To diagnose, we conduct a comprehensive exam, which includes looking in your ears and throat and listening to your chest, collect a thorough medical history, and if pneumonia is a possibility, order a chest x-ray. If we suspect you may have a condition other than bronchitis, a sputum culture may be required to check for bacteria.

A pulmonary function test is a breathing test to determine lung function using a device called a spirometer. If you are at risk for chronic bronchitis or have underlying COPD, it may be helpful for you to have a pulmonary function test to determine your baseline lung function.

People with a chronic cough lose lung function so gradually, they tend to get used to it, slowing down their lifestyle to adjust to it, and usually don’t worry about being short of breath until it becomes severe. If the condition isn’t treated, oxygen may be required and the lifespan can be shortened.

Treating Bronchitis

Treatment for acute bronchitis can generally take place at home and may include taking over-the-counter pain medication, drinking fluids, breathing in warm steam to help clear the nasal passages and getting rest. If it’s suspected your illness includes a bacterial infection, an antibiotic also may be recommended.

For chronic bronchitis, your doctor may suggest the above therapies but also recommend a few other options to improve your breathing. Bronchodilators are inhaled medicines to open the airways; both beta agonists (e.g., albuterol, formoterol and salmeterol) and anti-cholinergics (e.g., ipratropium, tiotropium and glycopyrrolate) are bronchodilators. Mucolytics thin mucus, making it easier to expel. Inhaled steroids can often help a chronic cough, even without mucus. Oxygen may be necessary if your oxygen levels are low. Our 8-week Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program provides education and methods to improve breathing. A smoking cessation program can help smokers quit.

Cough suppressants are not generally recommended for bronchitis, as suppressing the cough will keep the mucus in your lungs. However, it may be allowed at bedtime if your cough is interrupting your sleep.

Make an Appointment

To schedule an appointment to discuss your need for bronchitis or other breathing-related issue, call us at 888-287-1084.