The swelling narrows the airway and makes breathing more difficult. The irritation can also lead to increased production of mucus, which further blocks the airway.
Bronchitis is sometimes classified as either allergic or asthmatic bronchitis, depending on its cause. Non-allergic bronchitis can also develop, usually due to an infection.
Although symptoms of bronchitis are similar regardless of the cause, there may also be some differences, especially in how long the condition lasts.
What is allergic bronchitis?
Allergic bronchitis is triggered by environmental factors, such as pollen.
Allergic bronchitis involves inflammation of the bronchi.
Symptoms are triggered by airway irritants, such as pollen, dust, and mold. Cigarette smoking is also a common cause of allergic bronchitis.
The symptoms of allergic bronchitis may last for a long time or keep reoccurring.
Allergic bronchitis is often called chronic bronchitis and is considered a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Symptoms of allergic bronchitis include:
- productive cough
- chest tightness
Bronchitis can also lead to certain complications. For example, lung infections such as pneumonia are possible. In the most severe cases, pneumonia can lead to an infection in the bloodstream called septicemia, which is often life-threatening.
Non-allergic bronchitis occurs due to a viral or bacterial infection. Some people develop non-allergic bronchitis after a cold, for instance.
Although anyone can develop non-allergic bronchitis, elderly people and young children are at an increased risk. People with asthma also have a higher chance of developing bronchitis after an upper airway infection.
Symptoms often gradually clear up and get better within a few weeks. They do not last as long as the symptoms of allergic bronchitis.
Since symptoms may come on suddenly and are typically brief, non-allergic bronchitis is sometimes called acute bronchitis.
Symptoms of non-allergic bronchitis may include:
- productive cough
What is asthmatic bronchitis?
Like bronchitis, asthma is a lung condition that can cause problems with breathing. Asthma can cause inflammation of the bronchi, but it can also lead to constriction or narrowing of the muscles around the airways.
When bronchitis and asthma occur together and symptoms overlap, the condition may be called asthmatic bronchitis.
Inflammation that triggers symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis may occur in response to exposure to certain substances, such as pollen, pollution, and cigarette smoke. Some people also develop asthmatic bronchitis due to a change in weather or exercise.
Asthma and bronchitis can occur together, causing the airway to narrow.
People with asthmatic bronchitis respond to a trigger by releasing leukotrienes, which are inflammatory molecules. Leukotrienes cause a series of reactions including narrowing of the airway.
Symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis may include:
- excess mucus production
- shortness of breath
Diagnosis of allergic bronchitis
Allergic bronchitis is diagnosed based on several factors. A person's medical history will be reviewed, and a physical exam is often performed. The doctor will usually ask questions to determine how long symptoms have been going on for.
A chest X-ray may also be ordered, along with blood tests. A chest X-ray will help to rule out other causes of breathing problems, such as pneumonia. Blood tests will also help to determine if an infection is present.
In some cases, a pulmonary function test may also be recommended. A pulmonary function test involves the patient blowing into a special device called a spirometer. The device measures how much air a person can blow out, and how quickly.
The test helps doctors to identify the presence of certain lung diseases.
Treatment for allergic and asthmatic bronchitis are often similar. Treatment may include the following:
Bronchodilators are medications that relax the muscles around the airways. As the muscles relax, the airways dilate or widen, often making breathing easier. Bronchodilators are usually breathed in through a metered dose inhaler.
Both short-acting and long-acting bronchodilators may be used. Short-acting bronchodilators act quickly to decrease symptoms.
Long-acting bronchodilators do not reduce symptoms as quickly, but they control symptoms for longer than short-acting bronchodilators do.
Steroids may also be used to treat allergic bronchitis. Steroids decrease inflammation in the bronchi, which reduces coughing and may help air to flow in and out of the lungs more easily.
Although steroids can be given orally or by vein, they are often administered through an inhaler to treat bronchitis.
A mucolytic is a medication that works by making the mucus thinner and less sticky, making it easier to cough out of the lungs.
Mucolytics may be administered either orally or through a nebulizer. A nebulizer is a device that changes a liquid medication into an aerosol, which is then inhaled.
In some instances, allergic bronchitis can interfere with how efficiently oxygen flows into and out of the lungs.
People with severe allergic bronchitis may have decreased blood oxygen levels. If oxygen levels are low, a doctor may prescribe oxygen therapy.
Pulmonary rehabilitation classes
Pulmonary rehabilitation can include supervised exercise and learning new breathing techniques.
People with allergic bronchitis may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation classes. Pulmonary rehabilitation classes involve supervised exercise, along with education to breathe better and manage living with allergic bronchitis.
Non-allergic bronchitis and asthmatic bronchitis are often treated similarly to allergic bronchitis, with bronchodilators, steroids, and oxygen as needed. However, non-allergic bronchitis may also be treated with antibiotics if it is caused by a bacterial infection.
Asthmatic bronchitis may also be treated by teaching people how to decrease exposure to allergens that may trigger symptoms.
In some cases, leukotriene modifiers may also be prescribed to treat asthmatic bronchitis. Leukotriene modifiers work by interfering with the chemical reactions that occur in asthmatic bronchitis to cause its symptoms.
Many of the treatments for allergic bronchitis require a doctor's prescription. However, there are also things that a person can do at home that may help.
Although home remedies will not cure the underlying cause of allergic bronchitis, they may help to reduce symptoms. People may wish to consider the following home remedies:
- Using a humidifier: A humidifier will moisten the air, which may loosen mucus and make it easier to cough out of the lungs. It may also decrease wheezing.
- Drinking plenty of fluids: Drinking enough water may help to thin the mucus and allow it to be coughed up.
- Gargling with salt water: All the coughing from allergic bronchitis can lead to a sore throat. Gargling with salt water may ease discomfort.
- Taking a cough drop: A cough drop may keep the throat moist and could provide relief from coughing.
Prevention of allergic bronchitis
Since cigarette smoke is one of the main causes of allergic bronchitis, quitting smoking, or not starting at all, is one of the best ways to prevent the condition.
Avoiding other lung irritants, such as chemical fumes, dust, and air pollution, may also help.
If outdoor allergens, including pollen or mold, tend to cause allergic bronchitis, wearing a mask when carrying out yard work may also prevent symptoms.