What is Chronic Bronchitis?

Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes that lasts longer than three months. This respiratory condition is most often brought on by smoking or long-term exposure to dust, fumes, or other air pollution. There is no cure for chronic bronchitis, but treatments, such as bronchodilators, steroids, or oxygen therapy, to ease the symptoms have proven effective.

Chronic bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lasts longer than three months, unlike its relative acute bronchitis, which lasts only a few days. When presenting together, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory disease emphysema make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the CDC, there are about 8.7 million adults diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in the U.S.1 Additionally, chronic bronchitis accounted for 294,000 visits to the emergency room in 2012, and accounted for 619 deaths in that year. Although it

Chronic bronchitis occurs if the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed, causing a long-term cough with mucus. This condition also presents with difficulty breathing, wheezing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.  People with chronic bronchitis can also get acute bronchitis on top of it, as viruses or bacteria can easily infect the irritated and weakened bronchial tubes. When this happens, the person’s condition worsens for several days while the secondary infection takes hold.2

Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis and there is no cure; as such, smokers are urged to quit before it even begins. With early diagnosis and treatment, however, sufferers of chronic bronchitis can enjoy a better quality of life.

The first step to treatment is to remove the source of lung irritation: most often, in this case, smoking. If other lung irritants like fumes or dust contributed to the development of chronic bronchitis, it is important to avoid areas with heavy air pollution. If one must enter an area with fumes or dust, then a proper-fitting mask is recommended.

Besides removing the source of irritation, other treatment options for chronic bronchitis include medication that opens the airways, such as bronchodilators, which are inhaled, or steroids, which are either inhaled or taken via pill). Oxygen therapy has also been recommended as a treatment for chronic bronchitis, which allows for easier breathing and provides much-needed oxygen to the body.

Chronic bronchitis is a very serious, long-term condition that can truly affect your life. Difficulty breathing makes all other activities difficult—any active hobbies a sufferer of chronic bronchitis might have had could now be impossible. With proper preventative care, however, a vast majority of people can avoid developing this debilitating respiratory condition. For those who currently suffer from chronic bronchitis, treatments such as oxygen therapy and medicine can help alleviate the symptoms associated with the disease.

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Glossary

alveolus air sac where gas exchange takes place.
angina chest pain.
aorta blood vessel that delivers oxygen-rich blood from the left ventricle to the body; it is the largest blood vessel in the body.
apex top portion of the upper lobes of the lungs.
atrium one of the two receiving chambers of the heart.
base bottom portion of lower lobes, located just above the diaphragm.
blood pressure pressure of blood against the walls of a blood vessel or heart chamber.
bronchiolitis inflammation that involves the bronchioles (small airways).
bronchoscopy the examination of the bronchi (the main airways of the lungs) using a flexible tube (bronchoscope). Bronchoscopy helps to evaluate and diagnose lung problems, assess blockages, obtain samples of tissue and/or fluid, and/or to help remove a foreign body.
bronchus large airways; lung divides into right and left bronchi.
cardiac output total amount of blood being pumped by the heart over a particular period of time.
catheter thin, flexible medical tube; one use is to insert it into a blood vessel to measure blood pressure.
constrict tighten; narrow.
cyanosis bluish color in the skin because of insufficient oxygen.
diaphragm primary muscle used for respiration, located just below the lung bases.
diastolic pressure lowest pressure to which blood pressure falls between contractions of the ventricles.
dilate relax; expand.
dyspnea sensation of difficulty in breathing.
edema swelling due to the buildup of fluid.
endothelial cells the delicate lining, only one cell thick, of the organs of circulation.
expiration exhaling; giving off carbon dioxide.
heartbeat one complete contraction of the heart.
hyperactive describes a situation in which a body tissue is especially likely to have an exaggerated reaction to a particular situation.
hypertension abnormally high blood pressure.
hypotension abnormally low blood pressure.
inspiration inhaling; taking in oxygen.
lobectomy removal of an entire lobe of the lung.
lung volume the amount of air the lungs hold.
mean blood pressure average blood pressure, taking account of the rise and fall that occurs with each heartbeat. It is often estimated by multiplying the diastolic pressure by two, adding the systolic pressure, and then dividing this sum by three.
palpitation sensation of rapid heartbeats.
perfusion flow.
pleura membrane that covers the outside of the lung.
pneumonectomy removal of an entire lung.
pulmonary artery blood vessel delivering oxygen-poor blood from the right ventricle to the lungs.
pulmonary hypertension abnormally high blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs.
smooth muscle muscle that performs automatic tasks, such as constricting blood vessels.
spirogram record of the amounts of air being moved in and out of the lungs.
syncope fainting; temporary loss of consciousness.
systemic relating to a process that affects the body generally; in this instance, the way in which blood is supplied through the aorta to all body organs except the lungs.
systolic pressure the highest pressure to which blood pressure rises with the contraction of the ventricles.
vasodilator agent that widens blood vessels.
ventilation movement of air (gases) in and out of the lungs.
ventricle one of the two pumping chambers of the heart; right ventricle receives oxygen-poor blood from the right atrium and pumps it to the lungs through the pulmonary artery; left ventricle receives oxygen-rich blood from the left atrium and pumps it to the body through the aorta.