Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi (medium-size airways) in the lungs. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses or bacteria and may last several days or weeks. Chronic bronchitis is not necessarily caused by infection and is generally part of a syndrome called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); it is defined clinically as a persistent cough that produces sputum (phlegm) and mucus, for at least three months in two consecutive years.
Signs and symptoms
Bronchitis may be indicated by an expectorating cough (also known as a productive cough, i.e. one that produces sputum), shortness of breath (dyspnea) and wheezing. Occasionally chest pains, fever, and fatigue or malaise may also occur. Mucus is normally green or yellowish green and also may be a neon orange or green, depending on the pathogen causing the inflammation.
Tobacco smoking is the most common cause. Pneumoconiosis and long-term fume inhalation are other causes.
A physical examination will often reveal decreased intensity of breath sounds, wheeze (rales) and prolonged expiration. Most doctors rely on the presence of a persistent dry or wet cough as evidence of bronchitis.
A variety of tests may be performed in patients presenting with cough and shortness of breath:
For acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, if antibiotics are used, amoxycillin or doxycycline is recommended.
For acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, a clinical practice guideline by the American College of Physicians found that bronchodilators may help.
For acute exacerbations of chronic bronchitis, a clinical practice guideline by the American College of Physicians found that corticosteroids may help.