Bronchitis is not just bronchitis. We explain what forms the experts distinguish and to what causes they can be traced.
Many associate the term “bronchitis” with a cold. Indeed, bronchitis often occurs in connection with viral infections such as one
cold. In contrast to this acute form of bronchitis, chronic bronchitis also exists which has other causes.
The bronchi are finely branched tube-like air passages in the lungs. Their job is to direct inhaled air into the alveoli. The alveoli are responsible for the exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the air and the blood.
When you inhale, the air enters the trachea first. This opens into two large main bronchi, each of which passes through a lung. Numerous smaller bronchi branch off from the main bronchi, which continue to branch out and eventually open into the pulmonary alveoli.
The bronchi are lined internally with a protective mucous membrane. The smallest dust particles that are inhaled stick to this mucus layer. However, the bronchi can partially clean themselves: with the help of fine cilia, which are found in the mucous membrane, mucus and particles are transported from the airways to the throat. From there they are released – coughing or ingested and ultimately expelled.
Depending on the severity and duration of the disease, experts distinguish between one
If chronic bronchitis is not treated properly, it can develop into what is known as chronic obstructive bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is a short-lived inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi. Pathogens are almost always the cause – mostly viruses, rarely bacteria. Therefore, acute bronchitis is usually contagious. The disease often occurs as part of the flu or a common cold.
Acute bronchitis can also develop in connection with other infectious diseases such as measles or whooping cough. In rare cases, irritation, such as from exhaust fumes or dust, and fungal infections can also trigger acute bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is mainly evident through coughing. First, sufferers experience a dry, dry cough. In the subsequent course, a lot of mucus is formed in the bronchi, which those affected cough. Experts refer to such a cough with sputum as a productive cough.
Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own. After a few days, sufferers usually feel much better, but the dry cough can last for a few more weeks.
Unlike the acute form, chronic bronchitis is permanent inflammation. Experts speak of chronic bronchitis when cough with sputum occurs again and again for a period of at least three months for at least two consecutive years and other causes have been ruled out.
Chronic bronchitis is mainly caused by inhaled pollutants: the most common cause is years of smoking, which is why the disease is often referred to as “smoker’s cough”. However, smoking isn’t the only possible cause. Other triggers notably include other inhaled pollutants such as dust, gases or vapors.
Inhaled substances irritate the mucous membrane of the bronchi. The result: it becomes inflamed and produces more mucus. This disturbs the natural self-cleaning mechanism of the bronchi. The tissue of the bronchi and lungs is increasingly damaged. Patients are particularly susceptible to respiratory infections such as pneumonia.
If chronic bronchitis is not treated for a long time, the airways can permanently narrow. Then it’s chronic obstructive bronchitis. In addition to a strong cough with sputum, those affected increasingly suffer from shortness of breath. Your ability to perform is limited.
Chronic obstructive bronchitis can progress to what is known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). With COPD, in addition to narrowing of the airways, the air sacs in the lungs are overinflated (pulmonary emphysema). This damages the heart and lungs.
Chronic obstructive bronchitis and COPD are not curable. Treatment aims to relieve symptoms and stop the progression of the disease.