Bronchitis comes with many misconceptions. Patients and their parents (and sometimes health-care providers) are often confused as to what causes it, how it is caught and what exactly it is.
The bronchial tubes are the larger airways in the lungs that run from the windpipe (the trachea) to the small airways (the bronchioles).
If the lungs are thought of as an upside-down tree, the bronchial tubes are the branches coming off the trunk (windpipe) that eventually end at the twigs (bronchioles).
These bronchial tubes are lined with a delicate mucus-secreting membrane. Bronchitis is the inflammation of this membrane.
If the membrane swells and produces more mucus, an initial dry cough that eventually becomes productive often follows.
Acute bronchitis is an infection that lasts for only a few weeks at most.
It is usually caused by a virus and will often come with a head cold.
This infection is often spread by coughing or by touching infected respiratory secretions and then touching the nose or mouth with them.
Symptoms consist of an initial dry cough that can later become productive, with white or colored mucus being coughed up.
The sufferer may have a fever (usually low-grade), chills, headache, shortness of breath, malaise, wheezing and chest soreness or tightness.
Occasionally (<10%) certain bacteria can cause acute bronchitis.
Sometimes physical or chemical irritants (dust or chemical cleaners, for example) can also trigger it.
Chronic bronchitis lasts from months to years and is most often caused by smoking tobacco.
Symptoms include those of acute bronchitis except for the fever and chills.
Sufferers from chronic bronchitis tend to be more susceptible to bacterial respiratory tract infections such as pneumonia.
Antibiotics are usually not necessary for treating acute bronchitis because most cases are triggered by viruses.
Fluids, rest and antitussives (such as buckwheat honey or dextromethorphan) in children old enough to take them are usually recommended as treatment.
Sometimes bronchodilators are prescribed if wheezing is suspected as a symptom.
In some cases, recurrent episodes of acute bronchitis in a child can actually mean he has asthma.
The main treatment for chronic bronchitis is for the sufferer to stop smoking.
While easier said than done, this gives the smoker the best chance at decreasing the duration of the bronchitis.