Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs during respiration. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis is a common ailment, occurring frequently as a complication of a cold or other respiratory infection. Chronic bronchitis, however, is less common and more serious. An individual is considered to have chronic bronchitis when the illness lasts longer, up to several months, and occurs more frequently, two or more bouts a year. Chronic bronchitis may be a precursor of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs that may be caused by bacteria, a virus or fungus. As a result, the lungs fill with pus or fluid causing difficulty breathing that may be accompanied by fever and chills. It can affect people of all ages but those at a higher risk of developing pneumonia include adults age 65 and older, children age 2 and younger, people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, and smokers. Pneumonia can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.

Causes of Bronchitis

Most cases of bronchitis are caused by a virus. While the illness may originate from a viral infection like a cold or flu, it may then be complicated by a bacterial infection. If bronchitis remains viral, antibiotic treatment does not help to cure the ailment. However, if bacteria invade the bronchial tubes, antibiotics may be necessary and helpful.

Pollutants often make the respiratory system susceptible to bronchial infection. The most common pollutant is cigarette (or cigar or pipe) smoke. Many people who suffer chronic bronchitis are smokers or live in a smoke-filled environment. Air pollution, dust or any airborne toxins, whether at home or in the workplace, make bronchitis more likely.

Risk Factors for Bronchitis

Some people are at much greater risk of developing bronchitis than others. The following factors make an individual more likely to contract the illness:

  • Being a smoker or being exposed to secondhand smoke
  • Living or working in an environment polluted by chemical fumes
  • Having severe gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Being asthmatic

Babies or young children, elderly individuals or those with underlying disease conditions that compromise their immune systems are also more likely to develop bronchitis.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Symptoms of acute or chronic bronchitis may include:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Cough with clear or colored mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Low grade fever and chills
  • General malaise and fatigue
  • Shortness of breath

If symptoms last more than a few days, or if they include the following, a doctor should be consulted:

  • Fever
  • Inability to sleep due to coughing or wheezing
  • Shortness or breath or difficulty breathing
  • Sputum that is yellow, greenish or streaked with blood

Patients who have asthma, a disorder in which there is muscle tightening and swelling around the airways, tend to be prone to a form of bronchitis called asthmatic bronchitis. They often have more severe symptoms and should seek medical care.

Diagnosis of Bronchitis

In order to diagnose bronchitis, the doctor will take a medical history and do a physical examination. Listening to the patient’s breathing through a stethoscope is important because the doctor can detect wheezing and, to a certain extent, congestion in this way. A mucous sample may be obtained to check for bacterial infection. Usually, the patient’s oxygen level is measured with an oximeter. Other diagnostic tests may be used, particularly if pneumonia, or some other complication, is suspected. These tests include chest X-rays, lung function tests, and blood tests.

Treatment of Bronchitis

If the bronchitis is viral, it will usually resolve on its own in a few days. Rest and drinking fluids can decrease discomfort and speed healing. If symptoms are severe or persist, a physician should be consulted. The doctor may prescribe antibiotics or administer further tests. Patients who have chronic asthmatic bronchitis may be treated with corticosteroid inhalers or other medications, sometimes administered through a nebulizer, to keep their airways open. Patients with any chronic respiratory ailments should be vaccinated for the influenza and pneumonia.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Symptoms of pneumonia may vary depending on the cause of the illness. They may be similar to symptoms of a cold or the flu, and can include:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fingernails and lips that are either blue or gray
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Rash

Pneumonia may also cause a cough that produces mucus, shortness of breath and chest pain. Infants may not show any signs or symptoms of pneumonia.

Diagnosis of Pneumonia

Pneumonia may be diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. A chest X-ray is often administered as well as blood tests to confirm the presence of infection. Additional tests may include:

  • A bacterial culture of the mucus
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Pleural fluid culture
  • Bronchoscopy

A CT scan of the chest may also be performed for more detailed images of the lungs.

Treatment of Pneumonia

Treatment of pneumonia depends on the cause of the infection, severity of the illness and the overall health of the patient. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat bacterial pneumonia. Cases of pneumonia caused by a virus may be treated with antiviral medicine. Additional treatment and methods of symptom relief may include:

  • Rest
  • Antifungal medication
  • Drinking an increased amount of fluids
  • Fever relief medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Supplemental oxygen

It is important to take all medication as prescribed, so that a relapse of pneumonia does not occur.

Complications of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is often treated successfully with medication, however in some cases, especially in people with compromised immune systems, or in a high-risk category, complications may occur. Complications may include bacterial infections that spread to other parts of the body, potentially causing organ failure. Additional complications may include:

  • Lung abscess
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs
  • Difficulty breathing

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize breathing through a mechanical ventilator or to drain infected fluid through a chest tube, or through surgery.

Prevention of Pneumonia

While not all cases of pneumonia can be prevented, the following may help to prevent pneumonia from developing:

  • Receiving an annual flu shot
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Receiving a pneumonia vaccination

Getting enough rest, following a healthy diet, and exercising can also help keep the immune system strong. Avoiding smoking is extremely important as smoking can damage the lung’s natural defenses against respiratory infections.