Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the air passages within the lungs. It occurs when the trachea (windpipe) and the large and small bronchi (airways) within the lungs become inflamed because of infection or other causes. When these tubes get infected, they swell and mucus (thick fluid) forms inside them. This makes it hard for you to breathe.

Symptoms include:
* Coughing up extra mucus, sometimes with blood
* Inflamation of the bronchus (lower trachea)
* Hardening (oedema) of the smooth muscle
* Blockage of the alvola
* Wheezing (bubbling - refered to as "bubble wrap effect" when heard with stethescope)
* Difficulty breathing (due to above symptoms)
* Blocked/Runny nose

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. An acute medical condition comes on quickly and can cause severe symptoms, but it lasts only a short time (no longer than a few weeks). Acute bronchitis is most often caused by one of a number of viruses that can infect the respiratory tract and attack the bronchial tubes. Infection by certain bacteria can also cause acute bronchitis. Most people have acute bronchitis at some point in their lives.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can be mild to severe and is longer lasting — from several months to years. With chronic bronchitis, the bronchial tubes continue to be inflamed (red and swollen), irritated, and produce excessive mucus over time. The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking.

People who have chronic bronchitis are more susceptible to bacterial infections of the airway and lungs, like pneumonia. (In some people with chronic bronchitis, the airway becomes permanently infected with bacteria.) Pneumonia is more common among smokers and people who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Bronchitis is commonly treated with an antibiotic called Amoxicillin or with inhalers as with asthma. A rescue puffer, Ventolin, Salbutomal or Novo-Salmol, is commonly used for a respiratory emergency (dyspnea). Other inhalers can be prescribed for daily therapy use. When left untreated, or the infection spreads to the lower airways, it can often lead to Bronchiolitis which is more difficult to treat.

Chronic bronchitis is one sub-category of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or disorder). Emphysema is another sub-category of COPD. With COPD, each interferes with the absorption of oxygen into the blood stream. COPD patients can degrade to the point where their breathing system does not recognize high levels of carbon dioxide buildup. Their breathing mechanism will respond to low levels of oxygen instead. So applying oxygen for treatment of a COPD patient can potentially shut down the respiratory drive. However, COPD is a secondary issue. The oxygen is required for treatment of the main injury or illness. The main point is to monitor and ensure that if the respiratory drive shuts down, rescue breathing or CPR can be immediately administered (if no signs of circulation). It is estimated that one in twenty smokers suffer from COPD (making it the main cause of the disease) most of which are middle aged men, smoking 20-40 cigarettes per day for a prolonged period of 20 years or more.

What's the best way to avoid getting bronchitis? Washing your hands often helps to prevent the spread of many of the germs that cause the condition — especially during cold and flu season.
If you don't smoke, don't ever start smoking — and if you do smoke, try to quit or cut down. Try to avoid being around smokers because even secondhand smoke can make you more susceptible to viral infections and increase congestion in your airway. Also, be sure to get plenty of rest and eat right so that your body can fight off any illnesses that you come in contact with.

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