Acute Bronchitis in Adults Symptoms

  • Symptoms

    A persistent cough is the primary symptom of bronchitis.

    With bronchitis, the cough may be dry or productive (mucus-producing). If your mucus is colored, it does not necessarily mean that you need antibiotics, as is often falsely believed. Your mucus may be clear, green, yellow, or white, or have streaks of blood in it. The cough from bronchitis can last for a month or longer.

    With bronchitis, you may or may not have a mild fever, chest pain, or a sore throat. You may wheeze when you breathe, and have mild shortness of breath Table 01.

    As with a cold, you may feel achy and tired in addition to having your other symptoms. A high or persistent fever may mean you have pneumonia or the flu. Any severe trouble breathing requires immediate medical attention.

    The chest pain of bronchitis, if present, may worsen when you cough or take a deep breath. It is felt directly under the breastbone, and may feel like a burning pain Table 01.

    Table 1.  Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

    Persistent cough White, yellow, or green mucus that may appear 1 to 2 days after cough begins Feeling tired and achy Possible fever and chills Mild shortness of breath Soreness and tightness in the upper chest, which gets worse when you cough
  • Risk Factors

    Acute bronchitis tends to strike more often during the winter months, when viral infections are more prevalent.

    It is important to wash your hands frequently, especially after shaking hands or touching common objects such as doorknobs. Also, avoid touching your eyes and nose. Try to stay away from people who have a cold or the flu, and insist that those around you cover their mouths when they cough.

    Repeated episodes of acute bronchitis can increase your risk of developing chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which can be a serious illness.

    People who have repeated episodes of acute bronchitis have an increased risk of developing the chronic form of the disease. In the United States, about 5% of the population, or about 14 million people, have chronic bronchitis, making it the seventh-ranking chronic condition in the country. The disease affects people of all ages, but is most common in women and in people over the age of 45.

    Recurrent viral respiratory tract infections during infancy or early childhood can also lead to chronic bronchitis. There may be a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis if a parent or sibling has had the disease.

    Smoking cigarettes or other tobacco products increases your risk for bronchitis.

    Inhaling smoke temporarily paralyzes the tiny, hair like cells called cilia that line the airways. These cilia are important because they help to keep germs and irritants out of the lungs. The more you smoke, the more damage you do to the cilia.

    Eventually, the cells may stop functioning altogether, putting you at constant risk for infection and bronchitis. If a person gets bronchitis often, it may lead to chronic bronchitis, which can be a serious health condition. Your clinician can inform you of a number of medications and programs available to help you quit smoking.

    Children of heavy smokers have an increased risk for developing bronchitis, as do people who are repeatedly exposed to the cigarette smoke of others.

    Prolonged exposure to air pollution or certain dusts found in industrial settings increases your risk for bronchitis.

    Bronchitis is more common in urban areas where air pollution is greater. In particular, exposure to emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), a chemical used in bleaching and as a refrigerant and preservative, has been shown to increase the risk of bronchitis. Workers exposed to either inorganic or organic dusts (such as coal miners, grain handlers, and metal molders) are also at an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis, which can be a serious health condition.

    People with certain diseases are at a greater risk of becoming ill with acute bronchitis.

    People who have chronic lung or airway diseases (such as asthma), or whose lungs are congested due to heart failure, are more prone to developing acute bronchitis. Children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids are also more prone to bronchitis.

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