The coughing and breathing troubles of bronchitis and COPD have multiple treatment options.
What is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes of the lungs are inflamed. Symptoms include coughing up thickened mucus. This condition may be chronic or acute, the latter being a result of a respiratory infection, flu, or cold. The chronic bronchitis is serious, and it is usually caused by smoking. Acute bronchitis clears up in days, with the cough possibly lasting for weeks. Repeated bronchitis may indicate a chronic situation. Chronic bronchitis may be related to COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Besides the cough and mucus, other symptoms of bronchitis might include discomfort in the chest, shortness of breath, chills or fever, and fatigue. If a productive cough lasts for three or more months and recurs for two or more consecutive years, the bronchitis is considered chronic. Some patients with chronic bronchitis can have acute bronchitis bouts at the same time. It is important to seek medical attention if the cough lasts longer than three weeks, if sleep is prevented, if the fever is over 100.4, if there is blood or discolored mucus, or if there is wheezing. Dust, toxic gases, air pollution, a weakened immune system, gastric reflux (heartburn), and especially smoking, may lead to chronic bronchitis.1
What is COPD?
COPD leaves patients with less air in the airways due to the loss of elasticity of the air sacs and airways, destruction of the walls between the air sacs, inflamed and thickened airway walls, or mucus clogging the airways. COPD actually includes two conditions: chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema occurs when the walls between the air sacs have damage, making them “lose their shape and become floppy”. Instead of many tiny air sacs, patients may have larger and fewer ones, leading to less gas being exchanged. Most people with COPD have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD is the “third leading cause of death in the United States”. It develops over time, limiting activities, and causing disability. Middle-aged and older adults are typically affected, and there is no cure.2 Actor Leonard Nimoy recently passed away from COPD, which he had said resulted from years of smoking.3
Treatments for Bronchitis and COPD
If the bronchitis is viral, antibiotics will not work, but if it is bacterial, they may be prescribed. Doctors may suggest cough suppressants only at bedtime because coughing is important to help remove lung irritants. For patients with allergies, COPD, or asthma, an inhaler may also be prescribed. There are home care options as well, such as avoiding lung irritants by wearing a mask when exposed, avoiding smoking, and using a humidifier. Frequent hand washing can prevent the spread of viruses. Doctors often recommend flu and pneumonia vaccines as well. For those with COPD, it may be necessary to wear a surgical mask when going outside or near crowds.4 Fatigue and shortness of breath may cause eating and nutritional problems in people with COPD, so it is important that they rest, eat smaller meals more frequently, and possibly take nutritional supplements or vitamins. Some patients may be prescribed bronchodilators or even inhaled steroids. If the condition worsens, oxygen therapy may be required. In the most severe COPD cases, surgery (bullectomy, lung volume reduction surgery, or lung transplant) may be the only option. For others, pulmonary rehabilitation may improve lung functioning. This includes an “exercise program, disease management training, and nutritional and psychological counseling”.5