Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes, which are corridors that lead to the lungs. There are two primary types of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, can be initiated by several types of viruses. Bacterial infections can also cause acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis symptoms include: shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, chest soreness, sore throat, watery eyes, fatigue, mild headache, chills, and body aches. Fever may also occur in some cases.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term and progressive condition. It is most common in smokers. The main symptoms of chronic bronchitis are cough, difficulty breathing, and wheezing.
Symptoms of bronchitis
The primary symptom of any type of bronchitis is a hacking cough. In most instances, your cough will produce a thick yellow-grey mucus, although this does not always occur. This type of cough is called a productive cough.
Other symptoms of bronchitis are similar to those of other infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, and may include:
• Sore throat
• Runny or blocked nose
• Aches and pains
• Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green
• Shortness of breath
• Slight fever and chills
• Chest discomfort
In acute bronchitis, the patient may develop an irritating cough that lasts for several weeks, even after the initial infection resolves. In contrast, patients with chronic bronchitis will have a productive cough that lasts at least three months, with frequent attacks occurring for at least two consecutive years.
If you have bronchitis, your cough may last for several weeks after your other symptoms have resolved. You may find that the frequent coughing makes your chest and stomach muscles sore.
Some patients may also experience shortness of breath or wheezing. This is caused by sore, inflamed airways. However, this symptom is more common in chronic bronchitis patients.
For those with chronic bronchitis, symptoms are often worse in the winter. It is common to have two or more flare-ups every year, when symptoms are particularly bad and may impact daily activities.
When to See Your Doctor
See your doctor or general physician as soon as possible if:
• Your cough is very severe or lasts longer than three weeks.
• You have a fever for more than three days – this may be a sign of flu or a more serious condition, such as pneumonia.
• Your coughs produce a bloody mucus.
• You experience rapid breathing or chest pains.
• You become drowsy or confused.
• You have had repeated fits of bronchitis.
You should also contact your doctor if you have an underlying heart or lung condition, such as asthma, heart failure, or emphysema.
Some people, especially smokers, may cough all the time without initially realizing that they have a long-term condition. If you cough most days for at least three months, you should see your doctor. This is the most common sign of chronic bronchitis.