Bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, which are the airways that connect the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs. The bronchial tubes are a delicate, mucus-producing lining that cover and protect the respiratory system.
During a bronchitis infection, the tissue in the tubes becomes inflamed and irritated, making it more challenging to move air in and out of the lungs. More mucus is produced than normal and may be discolored when it is coughed up.
Acute bronchitis typically results from an infection such as a cold, influenza or other respiratory infections. It comes on quickly and can hang around for a few weeks.
Symptoms of bronchitis:
Bronchitis symptoms can come on quickly, and some can last for weeks. Watch out for:
· Cough, which may cause chest pain
· Mucus that is clear, white, yellow or green
· Mild fever/chills
· General ill feeling
· Shortness of breath
Acute bronchitis may also be accompanied by cold symptoms, such as body aches.
Causes and risk factors
Acute bronchitis is often caused by a virus, likely the same one that causes colds and influenza. In fact, less than 10 percent of acute bronchitis is caused by bacteria.
People are at greater risk for a bronchitis infection if they:
· Have low resistance to infection, such as the elderly, infants, young children and those affected with COPD.
· Are exposed to irritants on a daily basis with no protection (masks, filtration systems).
· Suffer from acid reflux or heartburn.
· Have asthma.
When to call the doctor
Schedule an appointment if your child's cough:
· Lasts more than three weeks.
· Prevents your child from sleeping.
· Is accompanied by a fever above 100.4°F .
· Produces colored mucus and/or blood.
· Has led to wheezing or shortness of breath.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The doctor will ask for your symptoms and the duration your child has had them. He or she will listen to their lungs for wheezing or congestion as well. The doctor may recommend additional testing to rule out other potential causes such as a:
· Chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia or other infections that cause coughing
· Test for illnesses that can be treated with antibiotics or for allergies
· Pulmonary function test to measure how much air your child's lungs can hold and how quickly your child can exhale to diagnose asthma and emphysema
Most cases of bronchitis improve without treatment, although this may take a few weeks.
Some home remedies for alleviating the cough include:
· Using a humidifier, to keep your child's airways moist in dry winter air.
· Drinking plenty of fluids.
· Resting and avoiding strenuous physical activity.
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Dr. Brian Kelly is a Boys Town physician who specializes in allergies, asthma, immunology and pediatric pulmonology.