Are you having a problem with the common cold or flu and have trouble breathing or a bad cough with mucus? This could be due to acute bronchitis. The trigger is usually a cold. Keep reading to know its causes and what therapies may be appropriate.
What is acute bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is one of the most common respiratory diseases. The mucous membrane, which lines the bronchi, becomes inflamed. The trigger is usually a cold, so it is a viral respiratory tract infection.
The bronchi are the continuation of the trachea. They divide into two main bronchi at the lower end. These lead the air we breathe into the two lungs. There, the bronchi branch finer and finer until they end in the tiny microscopic alveoli, where the actual exchange of gases takes place, that is, the vital intake of oxygen and the release of carbon dioxide.
The main symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough, often accompanied by cold symptoms such as a sore throat, runny nose, and lethargy. The cough is initially mostly dry and hurts behind the breastbone.
Acute bronchitis is predominantly caused by viruses. Bacteria are a rarer cause. Home remedies such as frequent inhalation and drinking enough fluids can have a beneficial effect. If necessary, a suitable cough medicine relieves symptoms. Only in some cases are antibiotics required.
Acute bronchitis usually goes away after about two weeks. But it can also last longer and have serious consequences, especially in older people or comorbidities.
The most common causes
In most cases, viruses are the cause of acute bronchitis. In adults, the main causes are influenza, parainfluenza or adenovirus. In children, the pathogens are usually respiratory syncytial virus (RS), adenovirus, coxsackie, or echovirus.
Typical symptoms of acute bronchitis
Acute bronchitis often occurs as part of a cold. It usually comes at the beginning of typical cold symptoms: headache and body ache, sore throat, hoarseness and difficulty swallowing, runny nose, and fatigue. Sometimes there is a fever, a temperature above 38.5 degrees.
As the disease progresses, a strong, dry, irritating cough sets in. It appears more often at night and in the morning after getting up and is usually accompanied by pain behind the breastbone.
After a few days, more secretions form in the bronchi. Those affected cough up slimy mucus, also called phlegm. You have a so-called productive cough.
How long does acute bronchitis last?
If acute bronchitis occurs as part of a common cold and the person has no other conditions, it usually clears up in about two weeks.
However, the cough can last longer in some cases. For several weeks, patients can still be plagued with annoying cough. Important: If the cough lasts more than six weeks, a doctor should be consulted again.
If the cough and sputum persist for more than three months in a row or for two years in a row, doctors talk about chronic bronchitis.
Possible consequences and complications
On the basis of acute bronchitis, pneumonia can develop.
If the bronchi are weakened by viruses, they can also become infected with bacteria, resulting in a presumed secondary infection. Bacteria mainly attack the already attacked bronchi. For example, in tissue damaged by chronic bronchial or lung disease, pathogens can proliferate more easily.
Serious secondary diseases are rare. Older people, heavy smokers, patients with a weakened defense system or with pre-existing chronic diseases, for example the heart or lungs can be affected. For example, the respiratory function of pre-existing COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) or bronchial asthma can be acutely worsened by the infection (a so-called acute exacerbation) and require hospitalization.
Above all, high-risk patients must therefore be careful not to "delay" an acute bronchitis, but to cure the disease and, when in doubt, promptly consult a doctor.
Sometimes a hypersensitive and hyperreactive bronchial system can be the result of acute bronchitis. This manifests itself in irritating coughs and increased bronchial sensitivity to non-specific inhalation stimuli, for example exhaust gases or cigarette smoke.
Acute bronchitis can become chronic.
In young children, especially infants, acute bronchitis can rarely lead to bronchiolitis obliterans (BO), a serious illness often caused by respiratory syncytial virus (RS).
The fine branches of the respiratory tract, the bronchioles, become inflamed. There is a risk that the bronchioles are closed so that respiratory air does not enter the alveoli for gas exchange. The healing can leave small scars on the lungs. These changes can interfere with breathing and in later years, among others, promote chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
When to go to the doctor?
You should ensure a visit with a doctor in the following cases:
· If symptoms such as cough, cold symptoms, and fatigue don't improve after a few days.
· If you have other symptoms such as a high fever, cough, night sweats, shortness of breath, or pain when breathing.
· If you feel very sick.
· If you have whooping cough or abnormal breath sounds such as wheezing or whistling.
· If you also suffer from chronic diseases such as asthma, COPD or pulmonary fibrosis or you are pregnant.
· If the cough doesn't go away after six weeks, you should see a doctor again.
How is acute bronchitis treated?
Acute bronchitis can be treated with home remedies or natural remedies, if necessary, with a cough suppressant or expectorant medicine. Only in some cases are antibiotics required, but this should always be evaluated by a doctor.
Some home and natural remedies can positively influence the course of acute bronchitis and relieve symptoms:
· Physical protection, temporary break in sports, bed rest in case of fever.
· Do not smoke if you have this habit.
· Inhale several times a day with 0.9% saline solution. Additives such as chamomile or essential oils can also irritate or cause allergies and therefore should be considered in moderation, also because an advantage over saline has not been proven.
Important note: Essential oils are not especially suitable for people with sensitive respiratory tract and less in babies.
· Drink enough, preferably water and unsweetened tea. This should help stimulate secretion. Note: If you have heart or kidney disease, you should discuss the amount of fluid with a doctor.
Cough medicines (antitussives) : As long as the cough is dry, especially at night, cough suppressants can reduce the urge to cough. But the cough should be suppressed, in any case, only for a short time.
Mucolytics (expectorants): It is important that the cough stops, so you have to release the phlegm, then possibly expectorant medications can help. These medications should facilitate the cleaning of the bronchi.
A combination of cough suppressants and solvents generally doesn't make sense, as they both have opposite effects. Sometimes, however, a combination is possible. This should be evaluated by the doctor and choose the best option according to your case.
In some helpful cases: antibiotics: An antibiotic can only help if acute bronchitis is caused by bacteria. Normally, however, this bronchitis heals on its own, an antibiotic is not necessary. However, antibiotics can be helpful if there is a risk of bacterial bronchitis taking a more serious course. If a bacterial infection is added to a viral bronchitis, antibiotics are also an option.
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