How Serious is Bronchitis?

Leading to smaller airways in the lungs, called bronchioles, the bronchi branch off on both sides of the windpipe.  Bronchitis is a condition of the bronchi that causes the linings of the airways to become inflamed or irritated.

In healthy conditions, mucus is produced in the walls of the bronchi to trap particles that could cause irritation.  Bronchitis typically develops from an infection that causes the bronchi to overproduce mucus.  These infections can typically be viral but at times bacterial. To move the excessive mucus, the body responds by coughing.

Bronchitis can be acute, where the symptoms are temporary and last up to three weeks, or chronic, where symptoms last several months and are usually reoccurring.  How serious bronchitis ultimately is, depends on the type the patient has.  To better understand the severity of bronchitis, we will evaluate the characteristics of both acute and chronic infection. Your Heritage medical provider can evaluate you, to determine what treatments are necessary for your condition.

What is Acute vs Chronic Bronchitis?

The main difference between acute and chronic bronchitis is the duration, severity, and reoccurrence of symptoms the patient experiences.  Acute bronchitis, which usually develops shortly after a cold, is identified as lasting only a week or two with a cough that could linger for weeks after infection is gone.  The infection generally clears up on its own without the need for medical treatment.  Typical symptoms of bronchitis are temporary and short-lived, thus typically no long-term or permanent damage is associated with acute bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as having a mucus producing cough for three months per year over two consecutive years.  With chronic bronchitis, the condition is much more serious, ongoing (long-term), and results in the bronchial tubes being constantly inflamed and irritated.  Long term lung damage or disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), can develop if chronic bronchitis is left untreated.  The primary cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking.

Bronchitis Symptoms

The primary symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough that produces mucus.  The mucus is generally clear, greenish, or yellowish but in some cases, may be pink if blood is present.  Other symptoms are similar to an upper respiratory infection such as headache, mild fever, sore throat, congestion, aches, and fatigue.  With adequate rest and fluid intake, acute symptoms often clear up on their own within a few weeks.

Chronic bronchitis symptoms are similar but generally more severe, significantly longer lasting (three months or more), and incurable.  In addition to the symptoms associated with acute illness, chronic bronchitis patients may also experience a high-grade fever, shortness of breath, wheezing, or difficulty breathing.

How Serious is Bronchitis?

As discussed, the seriousness of bronchitis essentially comes down to whether it is acute or chronic in nature.  Acute bronchitis, while a temporary inconvenience, is manageable, symptoms generally clear up on their own in a matter of weeks. At Heritage we recommend being evaluated by one of our qualified medical professionals. Chronic bronchitis is a much more serious condition that can result in reoccurring or permanent symptoms.  Long-term medical treatment is generally needed to manage the symptoms and patients can experience permanent lung damage or disease.

More on Bronchitis : Causes of Bronchitis