Bronchitis and Pneumonia

What is bronchitis?

Cross Section of an Infected Bronchial Tube in the Lung

Cross Section of an Infected Bronchial Tube in the Lung

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, which are the airways that carry the air to the lungs. Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and disappears without intervention, within a few days, just like a cold or the flu. All we can do is try to relieve the cough, fever and nasal congestion that comes with it, so that it seems to disappear more quickly! Sometimes, however, bronchitis is caused by bacteria and does not easily heal on its own. Bacterial bronchitis usually requires antibiotic therapy, such as penicillin.

What is the difference between bacterial and viral bronchitis?

Two things can help you tell the difference between these two types of bronchitis: the length of time the symptoms last and the colour of the secretions.

If your symptoms get worse by the day and persist for more than a week, you probably have bacterial bronchitis. Greenish phlegm is also a signal of a bacterial infection. Clear or yellowish secretions generally indicate that the infection is viral in origin.

Do you always need to take antibiotics when you have bronchitis?

  1. Antibiotics are only used when bacteria are involved: Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Since 75% of all cases of bronchitis are caused by viruses, only 1 person with bronchitis out of 4 requires antibiotic therapy. The others will see their symptoms resolve by themselves.

Apart from medication, what else can you do to feel better?

Rest as much as possible, and drink lots of liquids. People with bronchitis should drink 6 to 8 cups of liquid daily (1.5 to 2 litres). Water helps to liquefy the secretions and make them easier to spit. Since it is difficult to drink a lot during the night, use a humidifier to keep the bedroom air moist. (And clean the humidifier regularly!)

How are bronchial coughs treated?

Cough is the main symptom of viral and bacterial bronchitis. There are two types of cough: dry (no secretions) and productive (with secretions).

For a dry, bothersome cough, consider a cough suppressant. They are available in syrups and also in tablets. Dextromethorphan (DM) is the most effective cough suppressant available without a prescription. If it is not strong enough to relieve your cough, codeine-containing cough products can be used, but most are not available without a prescription. Codeine-containing products should be used with caution since they can cause drowsiness.

For a productive cough, consider an expectorant. Don’t stop a productive cough, unless it is disturbing your sleep and keeping you from getting better. Instead, use an expectorant to help liquefy the secretions, making them easier to expel. Guaifenesin is the only expectorant recognized as effective. It is found in many cough products. To obtain the desired effect, guaifenesin-containing products should be used at least 4 times a day.

Be careful when choosing a cough product. Make sure that the product you selected contains only the ingredient(s) you need. Several products contain a cocktail of ingredients that you might not need or contain ingredients that have conflicting effects such as suppressing the cough and liquefying the secretions in the same product.

How to treat bacterial bronchitis?

A 7 to 10-day course of antibiotics is usually prescribed to treat bacterial bronchitis. Several different antibiotics are used: some are more effective than others but are also more costly. Symptoms usually subside within 2 to 3 days. If there is no improvement after 3 days, return to your physician. Keep in mind that all antibiotic therapies should be continued to the end of the course. Even if you feel fine after a few days, keep taking them-otherwise a more severe infection may develop and a second course of antibiotics may be required.

Antibiotics must be taken at the appropriate time to ensure their efficacy. For example, some antibiotics should be taken on an empty stomach (1 hour before or 2 hours after a meal), while others can be taken with food. In addition, antibiotics can cause adverse effects. Consult your pharmacist who will tell you how to avoid or minimize any side effects.

What about pneumonia?

Pneumonia occurs when the lungs become infected. Pneumonia is more serious than bronchitis and is more difficult to treat. However, the treatment is the same: plenty of rest and liquids, cough suppressants, and antibiotics if bacteria are involved.

Cross Section of Inflamed Alveoli of the Lung in Pneumonia

Cross Section of Inflamed Alveoli of the Lung in Pneumonia