How Serious is Bronchitis?

For short, Yes, Bronchitis is a serious and threatening illness that may put your life in danger, mainly because untreated Bronchitis may lead to Pneumonia or other lung diseases.

But before we go any further, lets give a bit of background.

What is Bronchitis?

Inflamed Bronchial Tubes
Inflamed Bronchial Tubes

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial passages, the airways that connect the trachea to the lungs.

The inside of each bronchial passage is lined with a damp mucosa, whose cells are ciliated (they have tiny like hairs). These Ciliated Cells are extremely import as I’ll now show.

When we breath in, although the mucus and hair from nasal passages stop the passage of dust and other impurities, pathogens (biological agents that causes diseases or illness) or noxes (gases and the like) may pass, and move towards the lungs.

When these impurities reach the bronchial passages, the citia(the little tiny hairs) from the ciliated cells move from bottom to top, pushing the impurities outwards.

Pathogens and harmful organs cause inflammation of the bronchi and in response to inflammation, mucus is produced in excess.

Inflammation and excess mucosal production can destroy the cilia responsible for cleaning the bronchial passages.

How serious is bronchitis? The mucus can get infected with bacteria, and cause other types of lung diseases such as pneumonia. So although bronchitis is not very threatening by itself, when untreated can lead very severe diseases and conditions.

What causes Bronchitis?

There are two types of Bronchitis with relation to its causes:

  • Infectious Bronchitis: which is caused by pathogens: viruses, bacteria.
  • Irritable Bronchitis: which is the result of exposure to toxic vapors or dust.

Acute Bronchitis (severe cases of Bronchitis) occur most commonly in connection with lung infections:

  • 90% of lung infections are viral (produced by viruses)
  • 10% are bacterial (produced by bacteria).

Relation between Bronchitis and Smoking

Smoking also contributes to bronchitis. Smoking paralyzes the cilia of the lungs, which are responsible for cleaning the airways, and without proper cleaning, the mucus can form and accumulate in the lungs, which can ultimately contribute to bronchitis. Even exposure to cigarette smoke (passive smoking) for long periods of time irritates the bronchial tubes and affects the cilia.

Smoking is the main cause of the symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis and can occur after many years of smoking. It is usually diagnosed in smokers after the age of forty. Chronic bronchitis from smoking is not contagious and the symptoms may be less severe than in acute cases.

Asthma and Bronchitis

Asthma may be another cause of the occurrence of apparent chronic bronchitis in children and adolescents.

Severe chronic asthma can cause permanent obstruction of the airways, resulting in asthmatic bronchitis which has many chronic bronchitis-like symptoms.

Chronic bronchitis can also be caused by the repeated occurrence of acute bronchitis. The lungs, weakened with each case of acute bronchitis become more sensitive to chronic bronchitis.

Lets recap, How serious is Bronchitis?

Like we said in the beginning, untreated bronchitis may sometimes lead to pneumonia and other lung diseases, so Yes, Bronchitis is serious.

But that is not all. Although rare, there are other complications related to bronchitis which make this illness even more serious:

  • Recurrence Bronchitis: these recurrences usually occur in smokers, but signal that there may be an underlying low immunity that is caused by external factors.
  • Acute Bronchitis can also cause bronchial wall damage (bronchiectasis).
  • In people with chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma, acute bronchitis can cause worsening of coughing and wheezing.
  • Older children and men have a higher risk of developing complications.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis usually occur 3-4 days after an upper respiratory tract infection such as the flu or a cold.

Lets look at the symptoms of bronchitis.

  • Cough, which may be the main symptom: dry cough (dry, without mucus). Occurs in the first few days and then it becomes productive; the sputum may be yellow, green or may be transparent. In some of the cases, there may be small striae of blood.
  • Moderate Fever, usually around 38 degrees Celsius (high fever may indicate pneumonia)
  • The general feeling of asthenia (Low energy)
  • Constriction, pain in the chest, worsened by deep inspiration and coughing
  • Wheezing (whispering noise)
  • Lack of air

Most people experience symptoms for two to three weeks. However, in 20% of the people, the cough lasts up to 4 weeks.

Most of the time, acute bronchitis of the bacterial viral type is hard to distinguish, from other diseases like pneumonia or asthma, as they have similar symptoms.

Due to the fact that pneumonia is a serious illness, it is necessary to distinguish between bronchitis. One of the signs that distinguishes them is the high fever from pneumonia.

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