Bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the lungs. It is usually a minor illness that follows a viral infection such as a common cold; however, it may follow a serious problem such as chronic smoker’s hack. The cause of bronchitis may also include exposure to bacteria, chemical irritants or smoke. Some characteristic symptoms of bronchitis are feeling tired, cough and phlegm. What is the duration of the illness?
How Long Does Bronchitis Last?
The duration of bronchitis depends on the type of bronchitis you are suffering from.
Acute Bronchitis: Acute bronchitis often occurs 3-4 days following a flu or cold. It may begin with a dry cough but after a couple of days cough may bring up phlegm. Acute bronchitis gets over in around 2-3 weeks in majority of the patients; however, the cough may sometimes remain for 4 weeks or more. If your general health is good, your lungs will become normal after the initial infection is cured.
Chronic Bronchitis: This illness is suspected by doctors when you suffer from cough with phlegm on majority of the days for at least 3 months in a year, for 2 years in a row. Chronic bronchitis is a serious medical illness in which the lungs become a breeding ground for infections with bacteria and may need continuous medical treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?
After discussing "How long does bronchitis last?" let’s learn the symptoms of bronchitis.
For both acute and chronic bronchitis, the symptoms and signs are:
- Fatigue or tiredness
- Production of sputum (mucus) which may be clear, yellowish-gray, white or green in color – it may contain blood in rare cases.
- Shortness of breath
- Discomfort in chest
- Mild fever and chills
With acute bronchitis, you may also have additional symptoms of a cold such as body aches and mild headache.
If you suffer from chronic bronchitis, then there may be periods when your cough and other symptoms worsen. During such times, you may develop an acute infection over the chronic bronchitis.
When Should You Visit a Physician?
Visit your physician if:
- There is no improvement in your cough after ten days of treatment or it is there for more than 20 days.
- You are feeling uncomfortable or are unable to sleep due to coughing.
- You develop chest pain due to coughing or difficulty in breathing.
- Your cough is associated with unexplained loss of weight.
- You have high temperature of greater than 100.4 °F.
- You have wheezing or you feel like you are unable to breathe.
- Blood is present in the phlegm or you have symptoms that are not usual for a cold.
These symptoms may indicate pneumonia or other serious illness of the respiratory tract.
How Is Bronchitis Diagnosed?
How long does bronchitis last? How is it diagnosed? During the initial few days, it may be difficult to differentiate between a common cold and bronchitis. During physical exam, your physician may utilize a stethoscope to listen to the sounds of your lungs while you breathe.
You physician may recommend the following tests in some cases:
- Chest X-ray: A CXR can help in determining whether you have pneumonia or some other condition to explain your symptoms. This is particularly important if you are a smoker currently or have a history of smoking.
- Test of Sputum: The mucus that you bring up from your lungs while coughing is referred to as sputum. It is tested to determine if you have bacterial infection that can be treated by antibiotics. It can also be tested for allergies.
- Pulmonary Function Tests (PFTs): During this test, you are required to blow into a spirometer. A spirometer is a device that measures the amount of air your lungs can retain and the time you take to exhale air out of your lungs.
How Is Bronchitis Treated?
It's not enough to know "How long does bronchitis last?" How can it be treated?
Majority of the cases of acute bronchitis are relieved without treatment generally within a few weeks.
Since viral infections cause majority of the cases of bronchitis, antibiotics don’t work. However, if bacterial infection is suspected, your physician may prescribe an antibiotic.
In certain situations, your physician may recommend other medicines such as:
- Cough Medicine: If you are not able to sleep due to coughing, you may take cough suppressant before going to bed.
- Other Medicines: If you suffer from asthma, allergies or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), your physician may prescribe an inhaler and other medicines to decrease inflammation and open constrictions in your lung passages.
If you suffer from chronic bronchitis, you can try pulmonary rehabilitation, a program for breathing exercises in which you are taught by a respiratory therapist techniques to breathe easily and increase your exercising ability.
Self-Care at Home
1. Drink Lots of Fluids
Drink adequate amounts of fluids so that your body can function properly. You should drink 250 ml (8 oz.) of fluid every 1-2 hours. Keeping yourself hydrated will help loosen congestion. Your fluid intake should be in the form of water, clear broth, and warm water with lemon and honey or diluted sports drinks. Avoid consuming caffeine or alcohol-containing drinks as they may lead to dehydration.
2. Take Adequate Rest
Strive to sleep as much as possible. You should get at least 7 hours of sleep at night as sleep helps in maintaining strong immunity. If you are not able to sleep at night due to illness, you should still rest by lying down.
3. Make Use of a Humidifier
Use a humidifier at night while sleeping. When you breathe in moist, warm air, the mucus in the airways will be loosened and it will be easy for you to breathe and the severity of your cough will be reduced. Make sure to clean the humidifier regularly. If you don’t clean it fungi and bacteria can breed inside the container of water and get released in the air. This can further complicate your bronchitis.
You can also inhale steam by sitting in a closed bathroom with hot water flowing from the shower for half an hour. The steam will work in a similar manner as the vapor generated from the humidifier.
4. Stay Away from Irritants
Cold air and pollution can make your symptoms worse. You should stop smoking and avoid places where others are smoking. Smoke is one of the major irritants of lung and smokers are at high risk of developing chronic bronchitis. Wear a mask while going outside. Wear a mask while you are exposed to household cleaners, perfume, paint or other strong fumes.