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Bronchitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the deep inner lung passages called the bronchial tree.
Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is frequently caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Acute bronchitis may also result from irritation of the mucous membranes by environmental fumes, acids, solvents, or tobacco smoke. Bronchitis usually begins with a dry, nonproductive cough. After a few hours or days, the cough may become more frequent and produce mucus. A secondary bacterial infection may occur, in which the sputum (bronchial secretions) may contain pus. People whose cough and/or fever continues for more than seven days should visit a medical practitioner.
Chronic bronchitis may result from prolonged exposure to bronchial irritants. Cigarette smoking, environmental toxins, and inhaled allergens can all cause chronic irritation of the bronchi. The cells lining the bronchi produce excess mucus in response to the chronic irritation; this excess mucus production can lead to a chronic, productive cough.
Bronchitis can be particularly dangerous in the elderly and in people with compromised immune systems. These people should see a doctor if they develop a respiratory infection.
Acute infectious bronchitis is often preceded by signs of an upper respiratory tract infection: stuffy or runny nose, malaise, chills, fever, muscle pain, and sore throat. The cough is initially dry and does not produce mucus. Later, small amounts of thick green or green-yellow sputum may be coughed up.
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a productive cough that initially occurs only in the morning.
Breast-feeding provides important nutrients to an infant and improves the functioning of the immune system. Studies have shown that breast-feeding prevents the development of lower respiratory tract infections during infancy.1, 2 Whether that protective effect persists into adulthood is not known. Exposure to environmental chemicals, including passive smoke, can increase the incidence of respiratory illness among children.3
Chronic bronchitis is frequently associated with smoking and/or environmental exposure to chemicals or allergens. These exposures should be avoided to allow the cells of the bronchi to recover from chronic irritation and to decrease the burden on the immune system.
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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires June 2017.