WHAT IS CHRONIC BRONCHITIS?
Bronchitis is swelling and irritation of your airways that make it harder to breathe. When bronchitis is chronic, it means that you have symptoms year after year for months at a time. Chronic bronchitis is 1 of the 2 main types of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Emphysema, which is damage to lung tissue, is the other type.
Chronic bronchitis usually gets worse slowly over months or years, making it harder to breathe. Treatment will help control your symptoms and slow down worsening of the disease.
WHAT IS THE CAUSE?
Chronic bronchitis happens when your airways are damaged. The airways are the tubes and sacs that carry air in and out of your lungs. The damage is almost always caused by irritation of the lungs over many years. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of irritation. Other causes are exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, dust, and frequent lung infections.
The irritation damages the airways, causing them to swell and make extra mucus. The swelling makes the inside of the airways get smaller. The airways become blocked by the mucus, making it hard for air to pass in and out of your lungs. This causes wheezing and trouble breathing.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
The main symptom of chronic bronchitis is a deep cough that produces a lot of mucus. You have the cough every day or almost every day for months at a time. You may also have wheezing and feel short of breath. Your symptoms may get better but then come back several times each year, especially during the winter.
HOW IS IT DIAGNOSED?
Your primary care provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history, family history, work history, smoking habits, and exposure to cigarette smoke. Your primary care provider will examine you. You may have the following tests:
· lab tests of mucus to look for bacterial infection and other medical problems that might be the cause of your symptoms
· chest X-ray
· blood tests
· a breathing test called spirometry
When you have the breathing test, you will breathe into a tube to measure how well air moves into and out of your lungs. The test can show how well your lungs are working.
HOW IS IT TREATED?
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis, but there are treatments that can:
· Help keep the disease from getting worse.
· Relieve symptoms so you can breathe and feel better.
· Help you be more active.
· Treat infections.
· Help prevent complications.
If you are a smoker, the most important part of your treatment is to quit smoking. Talk to your primary care provider about ways to stop smoking. You might find it helpful to join a quit-smoking program, use nicotine patches or gum, or try one of the prescription medicines that can help you quit.
Your primary care provider may prescribe the following medicines:
· Bronchodilator: This medicine relaxes the muscles of the airways. It makes the openings inside the airways bigger, so it’s easier to breathe. Usually you take this medicine by inhaling it (breathing it into your lungs), but it may also be taken as pills or liquid.
· Steroid: Steroid medicine helps keep down the swelling inside your airways. You may need steroids if your symptoms are severe or if you are having symptoms more often. Steroids are usually inhaled, but they may also be taken as a pill. Using a steroid for a long time can have serious side effects. Take steroid medicine exactly as your primary care provider prescribes. Don’t take more or less of it than prescribed by your primary care provider and don’t take it longer than prescribed. Don’t stop taking a steroid without your primary care provider’s approval. You may have to lower your dosage slowly before stopping it.
· Antibiotic: If you have a bacterial infection, your primary care provider will prescribe an antibiotic.
Your primary care provider may also recommend:
· regular exercise, such as walking or riding a stationary bicycle
· breathing exercises
· a humidifier to add moisture to the air
· changes in your work environment so you are not around things that irritate your lungs
You may have a follow-up visit with your primary care provider to be sure any infections have been cleared up. Your primary care provider may want you to schedule regular checkups to see how you are doing and whether you need any treatment changes.
HOW CAN I TAKE CARE OF MYSELF?
Follow your primary care provider’s instructions and recommended treatment. This includes:
· Take all of your medicine according to your primary care provider’s instructions.
· Ask your primary care provider if a pulmonary rehab program might be helpful. Pulmonary rehab can help you with exercise training, emotional support, and even planning healthy meals.
· Take good care of your heart. Keep your blood pressure and cholesterol levels normal. This disease can damage the heart over time, so work to keep your heart healthy.
· Ask your primary care provider what symptoms you should watch for and when you should call for help. Be sure to see your primary care provider if your symptoms do not get better and especially if they get worse.
· Ask your primary care provider what activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities.
· Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup. Keep your follow-up appointments. Stay as safe and healthy as you can.
· Quit smoking. Ask your primary care provider for help to stop smoking.
· Avoid exposure to tobacco smoke dust, fumes, chemicals and mold.
· Get a flu shot every year and avoid close contact with people who have colds or the flu. Wash your hands often and well, especially when you are in public places or around children.
· Ask about getting a pneumococcal shot to protect against a serious infection.
· Avoid extreme changes in temperature and humidity.
· If you use a humidifier, keep the humidifier clean and free of bacteria and fungus.
· Get plenty of rest and sleep.
· If you plan to travel, discuss your plans with your primary care provider. It’s good to make sure there will be no problems with high altitude, humidity, temperature, pressurized airplane cabins, or smoggy cities, especially if you are using oxygen.
Eat a healthy diet.
· Eat healthy meals. Getting the right nutrition can help your lungs work better.
· Eat high-calorie snacks between meals if you are underweight. Take vitamin and mineral supplements if recommended by your primary care provider.
· Drink more liquids (water or tea) every day to help you cough up mucus more easily unless your primary care provider says you need to limit fluids.
Get the exercise recommended by your primary care provider.
· If you are able to exercise, get regular exercise according to your primary care provider’s recommendations. Exercise will help keep your heart and other muscles healthy. Don’t start an exercise program without your primary care provider’s approval.
· Do the breathing exercises recommended by your primary care provider. They can help strengthen the muscles used for breathing. You may need a physical therapist to help you learn to do them properly.
HOW CAN I HELP PREVENT CHRONIC BRONCHITIS?
· Don’t smoke.
· Avoid exposure to smog and other air pollutants, including secondhand smoke.
· Try to avoid frequent chest infections by washing your hands often, especially when you are around people with colds or the flu, and in public places (i.e. grocery stores).
· If you have asthma or allergies, keep your symptoms under good control.
· When you do have symptoms of an infection, see your primary care provider to see if it needs treatment.
The Lung Association of Nova Scotia: http://www.ns.lung.ca/site/
The Lung Association of Prince Edward Island: http://www.pei.lung.ca/