Chronic bronchitis refers to inflammation and often infection of the bronchia, manifested by persistent, sputum-producing cough. Patients are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis if they experience sputum expectoration for more than three months of the year over a period of two years in a row, in the absence of other respiratory or cardio-vascular problems that can also generate recidivating cough. Chronic bronchitis usually occurs on the premises of weakened natural defenses of the respiratory tract (cilia barriers), triggered by infection with viral or bacterial organisms, or prolonged exposure to cigarette smoke, chemicals, industrial pollutants and other irritants. Most cases of chronic bronchitis occur as a result of interaction between these factors.
In the process of diagnosing chronic bronchitis, doctors usually account for two major aspects: the recurrence of the symptoms generated by the disease and conclusive evidence of patients’ exposure to airborne irritants. Patients with chronic bronchitis may experience the following symptoms: sputum-producing cough (yellowish aspect of the phlegm and expectoration of blood are indicators for bacterial infections), chest pain and discomfort that intensify with deep breaths, wheezing, pronounced shortness of breath and accelerated breathing. Along with hypoventilation, cyanosis usually points to spreading of the disease at the level of the lungs. In the absence of an appropriate medical treatment, people with chronic bronchitis are very exposed to the development of serious complications such as emphysema and pneumonia.
It is important to note that there is no specific cure for chronic bronchitis. The treatment of chronic bronchitis varies from a patient to another, according to the intensity, the duration and the stage of the disease. The recurrent character of chronic bronchitis renders most medical treatments ineffective in completely overcoming the disease. Thus, the treatment of chronic bronchitis is primarily aimed at providing temporary symptomatic relief and preventing the occurrence of further complications.
The first step in the management of chronic bronchitis is to reduce or completely eliminate patients’ exposure to airborne irritants. In order to increase the efficiency of medical treatments, regular smokers are advised to quit smoking for good. Chronic bronchitis sufferers should avoid exposure to passive smoke, chemicals and industrial pollutants as much as possible. For most patients, symptoms such as cough and difficult breathing can be alleviated simply by minimizing the exposure to irritants.
People with chronic bronchitis are usually prescribed combination treatments that include prophylactic antibiotics, corticosteroids, cough suppressants, expectorants (medications that have the opposite effects of suppressants) and chest physiotherapy. However, doctors don’t recommend ongoing treatments with expectorants. Prolonged chest physiotherapy and postural drainage should also be avoided. Instead, cough-suppressing medications such as codeine or dextromethorphan can be prescribed in short courses for relieving persistent cough and obstruction of the airways.
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