More than 9 million Americans suffer from chronic bronchitis every year, according to the American Lung Association. Someone who has chronic bronchitis can also develop emphysema and together, this can be known as COPD or Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis is defined as an inflammation of the bronchial tubes or the lining of the airways. When this occurs, less air can flow to and from the lungs, making it uncomfortable to breathe. There is also a lot of phlegm and heavy mucus along the way, which is usually coughed up. Acute bronchitis typically clears up in a week or two and is usually part of a cold.
Chronic bronchitis results in a mucus-producing cough for many days throughout a month and this can be for three months of the year for two years in a row. When there is no other underlying disease associated with the cough, it is said to be chronic bronchitis.
When bronchitis goes untreated, it can hamper the air flow, create a more irritating cough, produce more mucus and even scar the lungs.
Since there is a considerable amount of coughing, many people chalk it up to smoker’s cough. Cigarette smoking is the number one cause for chronic bronchitis. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated that approximately 49% of all smokers will develop chronic bronchitis and 24 percent will go on to develop emphysema, which will result in a diagnosis of COPD.
There are also other ways to get this condition. Including bacterial and viral infections where the airways were significantly irritated. People who have been exposed to dust and fumes within their line of work, such as metal holders and coal miners, are more apt to develop chronic bronchitis as well.
Areas where there is a significant amount of air pollution can worsen the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. This is because the air that is being breathed is dirty and therefore making it harder against the already irritated airways.
Some underlying diseases can also cause chronic bronchitis, such as asthma and cystic fibrosis, but these are not nearly as common as cigarette smoking. The longer a person is exposed to tobacco and tar, ammonia, dust, sulfur dioxide and other pollutants, the more of a risk a person is at for getting chronic bronchitis.
It is important for people to understand the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis. If cold symptoms last for months instead of weeks and it occurs every year, it’s likely that it’s a case of chronic bronchitis and not an especially rough cold season. There are ways to treat the disease, though many people ignore them. Recommendations include smoking cessation and avoiding secondhand smoke. This will prevent further damage to the lungs.
There are various medications that can be used as well, including steroids and bronchodilators. This allows people to get relief through their airways and to help clear up some of the excess phlegm and mucus.
Smoking is the number one cause of chronic bronchitis but there are other ways to develop it as well. Knowing the causes can help a person take measures to avoid such a diagnosis.