What Causes Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is a condition caused by inflammation of air passages in the lungs. It is characterized by coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath and chest discomfort. These symptoms can last upto 3 weeks, in acute cases. Chronic bronchitis is much more severe and long-drawn. Let us first understand the biological factors of the condition.
Air passages from the nostrils and the mouth merge into the windpipe, before branching out and entering the two lungs. Inside each lung, each branch of the windpipe further branches out multiple times over, looking like an inverted tree. At the minute level, they are very fine, called alveoli. These alveoli are associated with equally fine blood vessels called capillaries; air inhaled thus reaches the blood stream. Pumped by the heart through the arteries, oxygen goes to other capillaries, which are associated with other body cells. It is then used by the cells in burning food to produce energy. Waste products are routed back to the blood flowing through veins, and are pumped by the heart back to the alveoli and eventually exhaled from the lungs through the external air passages, via the windpipe. Thus, it comes as no surprise that any restriction/narrowing of these air passages results in discomfort and fatigue.
- Viral and (some bacterial) infections (primary factors)
- Particle air pollution: dust/tobacco smoke/other pollutants (risk factors)
There are two chief manifestations: Acute and Chronic.
Chronic Bronchitis: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
The more serious form of bronchitis, COPD, can last anywhere between 3 months to 2 years at a stretch, and can recur several times in a lifetime, if precautions in lifestyle are not systematically implemented. It is marked by extended cough lined with yellow/green sputum, sometimes with streaks of blood, general congestion and fatigue.
The dominant cause of COPD is extended inhalation of particulate respiratory irritants. Addictive tobacco smoking and continued exposure to heavily polluted environments (such as those involving mining, hazardous chemical processing) rank high on the list of risk factors. Removal of these external respiratory irritants from the inhaled air is the long-term solution, aided by proper and timely diagnosis.
Chronic bacterial COPD is also not uncommon and an extended course of antibiotics has been found effective to control this form. Maintaining personal hygiene is a major deterrent to frequent recurrence of the symptoms in this case. For more details, please contact a Care clinic today.
Acute Bronchitis (Chest Cold)
This is the most common form and generally lasts no longer than 3 weeks. The dominant cause is viral infections, and thus it is contagious, i.e. can spread by direct contact or by others’ cough. It is worsened by pollutants in inhaled air. Sometimes, bacterial infections can also a trigger chest cold. Treatment is simple; use paracetamol and antibiotics at a late stage, only if needed. Personal hygiene and avoiding irritants in inhaled air help in the recovery.