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What is bronchitis?
What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?A cough is the main symptom of acute bronchitis. You may cough up mucus and possibly small streaks of blood. Other common symptoms include a mild fever, usually less than 101 degrees, general tiredness, a sensation of tightness, burning or dull pain in the chest under the breastbone, wheezing when breathing and possible hoarseness. Most cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people last only two to three weeks.
What are symptoms of chronic bronchitis?Chronic bronchitis is defined as a cough with sputum production for at least three months. Sputum is the mucus and other matter brought up from the lungs and bronchial tubes upon coughing. Diagnosis is based on medical tests, such as an X-ray, a CT scan or MRI of the lungs. With chronic bronchitis, your cough may be worse in the mornings and in damp weather. Youíre also more likely to experience frequent, ongoing respiratory infections, such as colds or the flu. Over time, the lining of the bronchial tubes thickens, and your airways may become scarred.
At what point do I see a doctor?Acute bronchitis usually doesnít require medical treatment, but you should see your doctor if you are short of breathe, if your cough lasts more than two weeks or if your cough is so severe that it prevents you from sleeping. Your doctor may recommend prescription cough suppressants to help you rest. If you have a low-grade fever that persists more than three days or a fever higher than 101 degrees (a higher fever may indicate pneumonia), see your physician. Breathlessness and coughing up bloody or yellow or green mucus are also indicators of possible pneumonia or bacterial infection that need treatment.
Can bronchitis lead to more serious problems?
Because pneumonia can be a serious complication, it is important to know the differences between acute bronchitis and pneumonia. For example, a high fever, shaking chills and shortness of breath often occur with pneumonia but not with acute bronchitis. If you have these symptoms, see your doctor immediately.
If you have chronic lung or heart problems, including asthma, emphysema or congestive heart failure, you are at greater risk of developing complications from bronchial infections. Chronic inflammation can also lead to asthma or bronchiectasis, a stretching of the respiratory passages caused by mucus block.
Dr. Thomas Thorson is a board-certified family medicine doctor at Sanford East Mandan Clinic. A graduate of the University of North Dakota School of Medicine at Grand Forks, Dr. Thorson completed his residency at the University of North Dakota Center for Family Medicine in Bismarck. He has special medical interest in occupational medicine. To make an appointment with Dr. Thorson, visit bismarck.sanfordhealth.org or call (701) 667-5000.