Bronchitis Causes Smoking

If you’re a smoker, it’s likely that you already know the many health risks associated with smoking. Smoking can contribute to emphysema, asthma and lung cancer. However, one of the first health problems many people experience from smoking is bronchitis. In fact, many non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis are at risk of developing bronchitis.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial passages, the airways that go from the mouth and nose to the lungs. Bronchitis, usually caused by a virus, can happen as a result of the flu, a cold or some other upper respiratory infection. Smoking is among the causes of bronchitis.

A severe attack of bronchitis is called acute bronchitis. If the attacks of bronchitis happen frequently over a period of three or more months, the bronchitis is considered chronic bronchitis.

There are two kinds of bronchitis:

  • Infectious Bronchitis: Infectious bronchitis happens when the bronchial passages are inflamed after repeated coughing due to a cold or the flu. The airways swell as a result of the coughing, making breathing even more difficult. The weakened airways are then susceptible to infection. If you come into contact with an ill person, or pick up a germ some other way, you may develop infectious bronchitis.
  • Irritative Bronchitis: Irritative bronchitis can happen when you are exposed to toxic vapors, such as those from cleaning supplies or cigarettes. Exposure to mineral dust can also cause irritative bronchitis.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Smokers who develop bronchitis may have a hard time identifying symptoms, since many of the symptoms may appear to be related to smoking. For example, smokers tend to cough, and many smokers cough up mucus every day. This happens because the lungs are trying to expel excess mucus caused by the smoking. As a result, the airways are constantly inflamed.

Symptoms of bronchitis may include:

  • coughing up thick or discolored mucus
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • sinus pain or pressure
  • swelling in your legs or feet
  • uncontrolled coughing
  • wheezing.

If any of the symptoms are severe or last longer than a few days, call your doctor. Even if you think you may just have a bad cold, early diagnosis and treatment can prevent the cold from becoming infectious.

Bronchitis Diagnosis

To diagnose bronchitis, you will receive an examination to determine whether your breathing is impaired. You may be asked to breathe into a tube, which will measure how well you breathe. During this test, which is called a pulmonary function test, your doctor will listen for wheezing in your lungs.

Your blood pressure will be taken to determine whether your reduced ability to breathe deeply has caused your blood pressure to rise. Your doctor may also want a sample of mucus to be tested for bacteria.

Treatment for Bronchitis

If your doctor decides that your bronchitis is caused by a virus and is not infectious, you will not be given antibiotics. Antibiotics are only prescribed when you have both bronchitis and a bacterial infection.

To ease your symptoms, your doctor will likely recommend the following:

  • Get plenty of rest, ideally eight hours per day.
  • If your airways are very inflamed, use a bronchodilator, an inhaled medication that will help reduce the inflammation and coughing.
  • If you smoke, stop smoking and avoid all tobacco products.
  • Take a cough medicine containing codeine if your cough is keeping you from sleeping.
  • Take cough suppressants only if you do not have a productive cough (i.e., a cough that brings up mucous). A productive cough is beneficial.
  • Use a humidifier in your room to keep your respiratory tract from drying out.

Bronchitis may take several weeks to run its course. It is important to stay hydrated and well-rested to help the healing process.

Preventing Bronchitis

The best way to avoid viruses or bacterial infections is to wash your hands frequently. This will prevent the spread of germs that can lead to colds, flu and bronchitis. If you do get sick, stay home to avoid infecting anyone else.

You can minimize your risk of developing upper respiratory infections by getting an annual flu shot. You can also help prevent pneumonia by getting a pneumonia vaccine. Usually people only need the pneumonia vaccine once in their lifetime.

One of the best ways to prevent bronchitis is to stop smoking. Continuing to smoke, especially if you have chronic bronchitis, can lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, or COPD. Once the lining of the lungs is destroyed by scarring caused by chronic bronchitis and smoking, there is no cure. Up to 90 percent of all deaths caused by COPD occur in smokers.

If you smoke, your doctor can help you figure out a method for quitting that will work best for you. There are many quitting options, including nicotine patches, nicotine gum, support groups and more.

Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous, so avoid exposing yourself or others to secondhand smoke.

Resources

American Diabetes Association (n.d.). Flu and Pneumonia Shots. Retrieved July 26, 2007, from the American Diabetes Association Web site: http://www.diabetes.org/utils/printthispage.jsp?PageID=TYPE1DIABETES3_232914.

American Lung Association (n.d.). Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Fact Sheet (Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema). Retrieved on July 26, 2007, from the American Lung Association Web site: http://www.lungusa.org/site/apps/nl/content3.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E