When does a cold, turn into Bronchitis?

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(KPLR) – When you catch a cold, it may morph into bronchitis, which many of us will call a 'chest cold'?

It's important to recognize what's normal and to know when something more serious is going on. Here's what you must know when that nasty cold turns into bronchitis.

Acute Bronchitis
1. What causes acute bronchitis?

  • When the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs (the bronchial tubes) are irritated, swollen and inflamed, it`s called bronchitis.
  • When that happens, the swelling produces mucus and your body tries to get rid of this slimy mucus, and hence you cough.
  • There are two types of bronchitis:
  • Acute bronchitis usually comes on quickly and gets better within 2 weeks. Most healthy people who get acute bronchitis get better without any problems.
  • Chronic bronchitis keeps coming back and can last a long time, especially in people who smoke.
  • Chronic bronchitis means you have a cough with mucus most days of the month for 3 months of the year for at least 2 years in a row.

Today we`re just talking about acute bronchitis. Both children and adults can get acute bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus.

Often a person gets acute bronchitis after having an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or the flu. In rare cases, acute bronchitis is caused by bacteria. And yet, many people seek antibiotics and many people are over-prescribed antibiotics.

Acute bronchitis also can be caused by breathing in things that irritate the bronchial tubes, such as smoke. It also can happen if something goes down the wrong way, such as when a person inhales food or vomit into the lungs.

2. Bronchitis symptoms

Acute bronchitis symptoms usually start 3 or 4 days after an upper respiratory tract infection. Most people get better in 2 weeks, but some people continue to have a cough for more than 4 weeks.

Pneumonia can have symptoms like acute bronchitis. Because pneumonia can be serious, it is important to know the differences between the two illnesses.  Symptoms of pneumonia can include a high fever, shaking chills, and shortness of breath, and a chest x-ray is often required in this situation.

Symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • A cough that is frequent, dry and hacking at first and then eventually produces mucus
  • A lack of energy
  • A wheezing sound when breathing, which may or may not be present
  • A fever, which may or may not be present

3. How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Your doctor or nurse practitioner will ask you about your symptoms and examine you, just like with any illness - a thorough history and exam is key. This usually gathers enough information to find out if you have acute bronchitis.

In some cases, the doctor may take a chest X-ray to make sure that you don't have pneumonia or another lung problem.

4. How is it treated?

If you have bronchitis you should:

  • Drink fluids every one to two hours unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake, such as with some heart problems
  • Rest
  • Don't smoke - ever again!
  • Relieve body aches by taking aspirin or acetaminophen. (If you are taking any other drugs, talk to your doctor to make sure aspirin or acetaminophen doesn't interfere with them. Children should NOT take aspirin. Also, the FDA and manufacturers now say that over-the-counter cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4.)
  • Many over-the-counter cough medicine with an expectorant (something that helps bring up the mucus) if your doctor recommends it. This can help you bring up mucus when you cough.
  • If you are coughing up mucus, note how often you cough as well as the color and amount of the mucus and report this to your doctor.
  • Suck on cough drops or hard candies to soothe a dry or sore throat, caused by the mucus secretion irritation. Cough drops don't stop your cough, but they may make your throat feel better.
  • Most people don't need antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
  • Check with your doctor if you have heart or lung disease, such as heart failure, COPD, or asthma.
  • You may need more treatment.

5. When should I Call the Doctor About a Cough?

There might be signs of a more serious illness that needs to be diagnosed and treated.
See your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms:

  • A chest cold that lasts more than two weeks
  • A fever greater than 101° F
  • Thick green/yellow phlegm
  • Night sweats
  • A cough that produces blood
  • Any shortness of breath or wheezing

6. What if I just can`t shake that cough, for weeks or even months?

A persistent cough may be a sign of asthma. Sometimes this condition is called "cough-variant asthma." Cough-variant asthma is vastly under-diagnosed and under-treated. Triggers for cough-variant asthma are usually respiratory infections like a cold or flu. You may even have cough-variant asthma and think the cough is due to an allergy. Until an asthma attack occurs, you may not realize that your lungs are involved.

How Can I Avoid Getting Bronchitis?

  • Don't smoke  - ever again!
  • Don't allow others to smoke in your home (passive smoking)
  • Stay away from or reduce your time around things that irritate your nose, throat, and lungs, such as dust or pets.
  • If you catch a cold, get plenty of rest.
  • Take your medicine exactly the way your doctor tells you (for example, some say take expectorants only at bedtime because they just work better when horizontal, compared with when vertical).
  • Eat a healthy diet (always good advice)
  • Wash your hands often.
  • Do not share food, cups, glasses, or eating utensils with someone who is sick.

You can also connect with Dr. Saggar, the Medical Director at St. Louis Urgent Cares, and ask him any questions you like.