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Bronchitis

Bronchitis is inflammation of the mucous lining of the bronchi. If the air we breathe contains irritating particles and gases, the bronchi can gradually become inflamed. The amount of air pollution in the environment can be an important factor in causing bronchitis; exhaust fumes from motor vehicles, smoke from fires and factories, and other chemicals released in the air can all irritate the bronchi. Cigarette smoking is a potent self-inflicted irritant and is a major cause of bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis usually begins as a viral infection such as a cold that spreads down into the bronchi and is followed by bacterial infection. The larynx and trachea are often also affected. Anyone with a respiratory infection may develop acute bronchitis, but most cases are mild and clear up by themselves. However, the infection may spread to the lungs, causing bronchopneumonia.

Symptoms

The first symptoms are a dry cough and a feeling of soreness in the centre of the chest, and also hoarseness if the throat is involved. After two or three days, yellow or green sputum containing pus is produced, and there may be a slight fever. About a week later, the sputum becomes either clear and colourless or, in smokers, grey from inhaled smoke. People with healthy lungs recover from mild bronchitis in about two weeks, when the cough ceases, but smokers may continue to cough for up to six weeks and are much more likely to have recurrent anacks and eventuallv the chronic form of the disease.

Infants, because of their narrow airways, are affected more severely by bronchitis than adults, especially if the small branches of the bronchi, the bronchioles, are involved. Wheezing during an attack of bronchitis sometimes means that asthma may develop later in childhood.

Treatment

Most cases of acute bronchitis do not require treatment with antibiotics. Aspirin may be useful if there is fever, and any cough linctus may be taken to soothe the cough. Symptoms should begin to lessen two or three days after their onset, if you rest and keep warm at home. If you do not improve in this time and instead become breathless or wheezy or begin to run a high temperature, over 38. 5°C (101° F), consult your doctor, who may prescribe an antibiotic and perhaps a bronchodilator drug to be inhaled.

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