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Chest and Respiratory Problems


Prevention - Home Treatment - When to Call a Health Professional

Bronchitis is an inflammation and irritation of the airways that lead to the lungs. Viruses are the usual cause of bronchitis, but it can also be caused by bacteria or by exposure to cigarette smoke or air pollution. The inflammation caused by acute bronchitis is not permanent. It goes away when the infection or irritation goes away.

Symptoms of bronchitis usually begin 3 to 4 days after an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, goes away. Symptoms often include a dry cough that may become productive (produce sputum), mild fever, fatigue, discomfort or tightness in the chest, and wheezing.

Having bronchitis and another lung disease, such as asthma, may increase your risk for pneumonia.

Frequent lung infections, especially in a person who smokes, may lead to the development of chronic bronchitis. Tobacco smokers are also at high risk for developing emphysema. Chronic bronchitis,

emphysema, and other lung conditions, such as asthma, are known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


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Bronchitis usually cannot be prevented, but you can improve your body's ability to fight infection.

  • Give proper home care to minor respiratory problems such as colds and flu. See Colds See Influenza (Flu).

  • Stop smoking. People who smoke or are around smokers have more frequent bouts of bronchitis.

  • Avoid polluted air and don't exercise outdoors when the ozone concentration is high.

Home Treatment

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Most cases of bronchitis can be managed with Home Treatment. Here is what you can do at home to prevent complications and feel better.

  • Drink 8 to 12 glasses of water per day. Liquids help thin the mucus in the lungs so it can be coughed out.

  • Get some extra rest. Let your energy go to healing.

  • Take aspirin, ibuprofen, or aceta-minophen to relieve fever and body aches. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than 20.

  • Use a nonprescription cough suppressant that contains dextro- methorphan to help quiet a dry, hacking cough so you can sleep. Avoid cough preparations that contain more than 1 active ingredient. See Cough Preparations on See Cough Preparations.

  • Breathe moist air from a humidifier, hot shower, or a sink filled with hot water. The heat and moisture will thin mucus so it can be coughed out.

  • If you have classic flu symptoms, try Home Treatment and reassess your symptoms in 48 hours. See Influenza (Flu) on See Influenza (Flu).

When to Call a Health Professional

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Call if you develop any of the following symptoms. They may mean that your lung infection is getting worse or that you are developing a bacterial lung infection.

  • A cough with wheezing or difficulty breathing that is new or different.

  • A cough that:

  • Brings up bloody sputum.

  • Frequently produces yellow or green sputum from the lungs (not postnasal drainage), lasts longer than 2 days, and occurs along with a fever of 38.3°C (101°F) or higher.

  • Lingers more than 7 to 10 days after other symptoms have cleared, especially if it is productive (brings up sputum). A dry, hacking cough may last several weeks after a viral illness such as a cold.

  • A fever of 40°C (104°F) or higher that does not go down after 2 hours of Home Treatment.

  • A fever higher than 38.3°C (101°F) with shaking chills and a productive cough.

  • A fever that persists despite Home Treatment. Many viral illnesses cause fevers of 38.9°C (102°F) or higher for short periods of time (up to 12 to 24 hours). Call a doctor if the fever stays high:

  • 38.9°C (102°F) or higher for 2 full days

  • 38.3°C (101°F) or higher for 3 full days

  • 37.8°C (100°F) or higher for 4 full days

  • Labored, shallow, or rapid breathing with shortness of breath.

  • If you have significant chest-wall pain (pain in the muscles of the chest) when you cough or breathe.

  • If you are unable to drink enough fluids to avoid becoming dehydrated or if you are unable to eat.

  • If the sick person is an infant, an older adult, or someone who is chronically ill, especially with lung problems.

  • If any cough lasts longer than 4 weeks.

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