Understanding Bronchitis -- Diagnosis and Treatment
How Is Bronchitis Diagnosed?
Tests are usually unnecessary in the case of acute bronchitis, as the disease is usually easy to detect through your description of symptoms and a physical exam. The doctor will simply use a stethoscope to listen for the rattling sound in your lungs' upper airways that typically accompanies the problem.
In cases of chronic bronchitis, the doctor will likely get an X-ray of your chest to check the extent of the lung damage, as well as pulmonary function tests to measure how well your lungs are working. The level of oxygen in your blood may also be checked with a small sensor that is clipped on your finger.
Conventional treatment for acute bronchitis may consist of simple measures such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, avoiding smoke and fumes, and possibly getting a prescription for an inhaled bronchodilator and/or cough syrup. In some cases of chronic bronchitis, oral steroids to reduce inflammation and/or supplemental oxygen may be necessary.
In healthy people with bronchitis who have normal lungs and no chronic health problems, antibiotics are usually not necessary. In most cases, the cause is a virus and antibiotics will not help. A productive (phlegm-producing) cough may come with acute bronchitis. This is your body's way of getting rid of excess mucus. However, if your cough is truly disruptive -- it keeps you from sleeping, is so forceful it becomes painful, or it persists for two or three weeks -- then your doctor may prescribe a cough suppressant. In most cases, you should simply do all the things you usually would do for a cold: Take aspirin or acetaminophen for discomfort and drink lots of liquids. Do not give aspirin to a child aged 18 years of age or younger because of the increased risk of Reye’s Syndrome.
If you have chronic bronchitis, your lungs are vulnerable to infections. Unless your doctor advises against it, get a yearly flu shot as well as a vaccination against pneumonia. One dose of pneumonia vaccine will help protect you from a common type of bacterial pneumonia until the age of 65 when you will likely need a booster. You may need a booster sooner if you have certain other medical problems.
Do not take an over-the-counter cough suppressant to treat chronic bronchitis, unless your doctor advises it. As with acute bronchitis, the productive coughing associated with chronic bronchitis is helpful in ridding the lungs of excess mucus. In fact, your doctor may even prescribe an expectorant if you have mucus that you cannot easily cough up. However, if you notice any increase in the thickness or amount of the phlegm, you may be coming down with a bacterial infection. In that case, your doctor may prescribe a 5- to10-day course of broad-spectrum antibiotics, which fight a range of bacteria.