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Acute bronchitis is a common respiratory disorder, characterized by inflammation of the air passages in the lungs, known as the trachea-bronchial tree. It affects both adults and children, and is one of the most frequent reasons for hospital visits.

What Causes Bronchitis?

Bronchitis results from an infection of the inner lining of the trachea and bronchi. This infection, in an overwhelming majority of cases, is caused by viruses like influenza virus A/B, respiratory syncytial virus ( RSV) and Rhinovirus. In a small mumber of cases, other microbes like mycoplasma or bordotella are implicated. Transmission occurs via inhalation of microbes, aerosolised by infected persons during coughing, or via touching contaminated surfaces like door handles. The risk of developing bronchitis is higher in cigarette smokers as compared to non-smokers.

What Are The Symptoms Of Bronchitis?

Cough is the single most important symptom of bronchitis. It is usually dry or associated with minimal amounts of sputum. Bouts of cough may last for 15-30 seconds. Cough is present for 7-21 days and is usually preceded by symptoms of upper airway infection line nasal congestion, mild fever and sneezing. Sometimes, mild pain in the central part of the chest may occur with each bout of cough. Patients may experience a headache, but it is usually mild. Sleep may affected significantly, as cough generally tends to be worse at night. Sometimes, a feeling of breathlessness may be experienced, and this is worsened physical activities like running (Pratter, 2006).

How Is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of bronchitis relies largely on the symptoms and signs. Specific laboratory tests like viral cultures and serological assays for specific causative microbe are not routinely performed in everyday clinical practice because these causative microbes are difficult to detect (Braman, 2006).  A chest X-ray may be needed in order to exclude other diseases with similar symptoms. Testing for specific viral pathogens in bronchitis is usually utilized in clinical research centres within research projects.

How Is Bronchitis Treated?

The Treatment modalities in bronchitis are largely palliative, meaning aimed at alleviating symptoms. This approach is favoured because specific therapy against viruses, which are most common microbes in bronchitis, does not result in remarkable improvement once the disease has commenced (Ebell, 2014). Treatment may include:

  1. Alleviating cough by the use of anti-tussive drugs.
  2. Paracetamol or Aspirin for fever and headaches.
  3. Increasing fluid intake.
  4. Bed rest.
  5. Avoidance of cigarette smoking.
 It is important to note that antibiotics are not needed in the treatment of bronchitis in a majority of cases. 

The widespread inappropriate use of antibiotics for bronchitis chas been identified as a major factor in the emergence of antibiotic resistance.  However, they may be useful in some populations for example,  elderly patients,  or patients with weak immune functions, where bacterial and viral causes of bronchitis commonly co-exist (Pratter, 2006).

 Symptoms may persist for up to three to four weeks, but a noticeable improvement in wellbeing commences from the second week.

How To Prevent Bronchitis

  1. Strict personal hygiene ( hand washing)
  2. Avoid  of direct contact with people coughing or sneezing.
  3. Vaccination against influenza.

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