When you suspect you may suffer from bronchitis, arranging for a medical consultation is the next step. Preparing for a doctor’s appointment involves making a list of questions along with notes of your current and past symptoms so that you can get as much information as possible from your doctor.
It’s also helpful to have a personal and family health history available so that you can efficiently answer your doctor’s diagnostic questions. Because bronchitis can mimic a variety of pulmonary issues, doctors generally conduct a series of tests to rule out other diseases and make a proper bronchitis diagnosis.
Bronchitis, an acute or chronic inflammation of the bronchial tubes, is caused by a virus that attacks the mucus lining of these passageways. Each bronchus connects from the trachea to a lung, transporting recently inhaled air to the rest of the body. When an irritation develops, bronchial swelling and excessive levels of phlegm can inhibit breathing. Irritants can also trigger coughing, a primary symptom of bronchitis.
In the case of acute bronchitis, the discomfort is typically sudden but temporary. A viral infection very similar to a cold or the flu tends to be the cause of acute bronchitis. While healthy patients will likely only suffer from symptoms for few days, others, especially those who smoke, can have symptoms that last up to several weeks.
Along with acute bronchitis, a higher percentage of smokers also suffer from chronic bronchitis. The carcinogens in cigarettes cause constant irritation to the bronchial linings. Anyone who suffers from persistent bronchitis symptoms for at least three months may fall into this category. Chronic bronchitis from smoking is not contagious, and symptoms may be less severe than in acute cases.
When to Call for a Doctor’s Appointment
When symptoms of a cold or flu continue to linger, schedule a doctor’s appointment so you can be properly diagnosed and receive the necessary treatment. If symptoms don’t improve within two weeks after you start treatment, return to the doctor, as your symptoms may indicate that you suffer from some more serious underlying condition.
Similarly, if symptoms worsen within two weeks of treatment, you should also return to your doctor. More serious symptoms may include:
- blood in sputum
- blue-tinged skin and lips
- breathing difficulties while at rest or lying down
- fever that remains high
- swollen feet and/or ankles.
These may be signs of other serious illness or complications from bronchitis.
Preparing a List of Bronchitis Symptoms
To prepare for a doctor’s appointment, it’s helpful to compile a list of symptoms you are experiencing. These will help you answer questions your doctor may ask you during the first exam. Evaluate whether you are suffering from any of the following symptoms associated with bronchitis:
- chest pain when coughing or taking deep breaths
- coughing that starts in the morning and continues or worsens throughout the day
- difficulty breathing when walking or climbing stairs
- fatigue that interferes with daily activities
- mucus that is thick and that may be yellow or green
- recent flu or cold
- wheezing or making other unusual sounds when breathing.
Along with these symptoms, note other information regarding your and your family’s health history. Some of the facts you should include in this list can revolve around whether you or a member of your immediate family suffer from:
- allergies that require treatment
- asthma or other breathing conditions
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- heart, kidney and lung disease
- high cholesterol
- other respiratory conditions.
Similarly, your doctor will likely ask you questions about your lifestyle practices that may be contributing to your bronchitis. Lifestyle choices that can cause bronchitis may include:
- exposure to excessive amounts of dust
- exposure to pollutants, including chemicals
- exposure to secondhand smoke
- smoking cigarettes.
Questions to Ask During an Initial Visit
When you arrive for your first exam, expect the doctor to listen to your lungs through a stethoscope. He may also take an X-ray of your chest and ask you to perform specific breathing tests.
During your visit, questions you may want to ask include:
- Are other tests needed to confirm I have bronchitis?
- Are there any breathing exercises that will help my condition?
- Can I just cut back on smoking without quitting?
- Do you think I have acute or chronic bronchitis?
- Is it possible I have asthma or emphysema?
- Is this infection viral or bacterial?
- Should I get a flu shot?
- What can help my breathing in the shorter term?
- What should I avoid to keep from getting bronchitis again?
- What type of antibiotics will you prescribe?
- Will it help to change my diet?
When your doctor determines you have bronchitis, he will discuss options and make recommendations for treatment. You should understand the diagnosis thoroughly and have a good concept of the outcome of medications and other health aids or lifestyle changes.
Your doctor can also provide you with information surrounding the following questions based on your individual case:
- Are there any exercise restrictions?
- Do I need an inhaler?
- Should I arrange to see a specialist?
- What is the long-term prognosis?
- What medications are involved and what are the side effects of each?
- What type of oxygen therapy do you recommend?
- Which over-the-counter medications can help?
- Will a vaporizer help?
- Will it help if I quit smoking?
- Will any prescribed treatments interact with my current medications or vitamins?
Many experts recommend that, when discussing treatment and asking questions about bronchitis or any disease, a second person come with you to your appointment. A companion can often take notes that are more thorough and can hear information that you may miss.
Familydoctor.org (2001-2007). Acute Bronchitis. Retrieved July 26, 2007, from the American Academy of Family Physicians Web site: http://familydoctor.org/online/famdocen/home/common/infections/common/mulitsource/677.html.
Health.com (2001-2004). Acute Bronchitis. Retrieved July 26, 2007, from the Health Publishing, Inc. Web site: http://www.health.com/health/wynks/AcuteBronchitisWYNK2000-MAL/box3.html.
Wrongdiagnosis, com (2000-2007). Questions Your Doctor May Ask (And Why). Retrieved July 26, 2007, from the Wrong Diagnosis Web site: http://www.wrongdiagnosis.com/symptoms/bronchitis/questions.htm.