Every time you breathe in, air enters your nose and mouth. It flows down your throat and into a series of air passageways called bronchial tubes. Those tubes need to be open for the air to reach your lungs, where the oxygen is passed into the blood to be transported to your body's tissues.
If the airways are inflamed, air has more difficulty getting to your lungs. With less air getting in, you can feel short of breath. You may wheeze and cough in an attempt to draw in more oxygen through tightened passageways.
Bronchitis and asthma are two inflammatory airway conditions. Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the airways that usually resolves itself after running its course. It's caused by viral or bacterial infections. Chronic bronchitis, which is longer lasting, can be triggered by long-term exposure to environmental irritants such as tobacco smoke, dust, or chemicals.
Asthma is an inflammatory condition that leads to tightening of the muscles around the airways and swelling that cause airways to narrow.
When asthma and acute bronchitis occur together, the condition is called asthmatic bronchitis.
What Causes Asthmatic Bronchitis?
There are many triggers that may initiate the release of inflammatory substances. Common asthmatic bronchitis triggers include:
- Tobacco smoke
- Allergens such as pollen, mold, dust, pet dander, or food (and food additives like MSG)
- Certain medications (aspirin, beta-blockers)
- Weather changes (for example, cold weather)
- Viral or bacterial infections
- Strong emotions (laughing or crying)
What Are the Symptoms of Asthmatic Bronchitis?
The symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis are a combination of the symptoms of bronchitis and asthma.
You may experience some or all of the following symptoms:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest tightness
- Excess mucus production
You might wonder, is asthmatic bronchitis contagious? Bronchitis itself can be caused by a virus or bacteria, which are contagious. However, chronic asthmatic bronchitis typically is not contagious.
Visiting Your Doctor
If you've been experiencing symptoms like those listed above, make an appointment with your doctor. After going through a series of questions about your symptoms and taking a medical history and physical exam, your doctor may order tests such as:
- Spirometry. A test that measures lung function as you breathe in and out of a mouthpiece that is attached to a device called a spirometer.
- Peak expiratory flow. A test that measures the force of air you breathe out (exhale) into the mouthpiece of a device called a peak expiratory flow meter.
- Chest X-ray. A radiology test that produces images of the chest to look for evidence of other conditions that could be causing your cough and breathing problems.
Treatments for Asthmatic Bronchitis
Asthmatic bronchitis treatments are essentially the same as those used to treat asthma and bronchitis, and may include:
- Short-acting bronchodilators, such as albuterol, to help open the airway to provide short-term relief
- Inhaled corticosteroids.
- Long-acting bronchodilators used together with inhaled corticosteroids
- Leukotriene modifiers
- Cromolyn or theophylline
- Combination inhalers containing both a steroid and a bronchodilator
- Long-acting anticholinergics
- A humidifier or steam
Bacterial respiratory infection may be treated with antibiotics.
Treatment also involves avoiding asthma triggers by following these tips:
- Wash your bed linens and blankets in hot water.
- Dust and vacuum regularly.
- Use a HEPA air filter in your home.
- Keep pets out of your bedroom.
- Don't smoke, and try to stay away from other people who smoke.
- Wash your hands frequently to prevent the spread of infection.