Bronchitis is one of the most common types of lung disease, but many people dismiss it as a bad flu, “smoker’s cough,” or the result of a bad cold. Bronchitis, however, is a potentially serious disease that can prove fatal in its chronic form.
Bronchitis is a lung disease that affects the bronchial tubes: the airways used to transport air in and out of the lungs. In response to inflammation, excess amounts of mucus, or phlegm, are produced. The mucus obstructs the airways, making it difficult to breath. Mucus may become infected with bacteria, which can lead to other types of lung disease, such as pneumonia.
Acute and Chronic Bronchitis
Acute and chronic varieties of bronchitis exist. Acute bronchitis is one of the most common lung diseases seen in the United States. Acute bronchitis begins suddenly, often after a cold, but usually only lasts a few weeks.
Two to three percent of the American population suffers from chronic bronchitis, and approximately eleven million Americans are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis annually. Chronic bronchitis may present as either recurrent bouts of acute bronchitis, or the lung disease may linger for long periods of time. In either case, chronic bronchitis eventually becomes a permanent lung disease that can significantly lower quality of life and shorten lifespan.
Dyspnea, Wet Cough, and Other Bronchitis Symptoms
Bronchitis is characterized by a number of symptoms. The most obvious is a productive, or “wet,” cough that produces mucus. The mucus is often thick and discolored. Accumulating mucus also makes it necessary for people to frequently clear their throats
Dyspnea is the medical term for shortness of breath. Excess mucus makes it difficult to breathe properly, so dyspnea is a common bronchitis symptom. A side effect of mucus-caused dyspnea is wheezing: the infected person makes a thin, whistling noise when they breathe out.
Bronchitis and Other Types of Lung Disease
Chronic bronchitis aggravates co-existing lung disease. Asthma symptoms worsen when bronchitis is present. Chronic bronchitis often exists alongside emphysema. When both types of lung disease are present, the resulting group of health complications is referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Beers, M. H.