Can the symptoms of allergies that cause breathing problems to turn into bronchitis? Since the two conditions affect the respiratory tract, there is a common link between the two.
Allergic reactions are associated with inflammation which narrows the airways causing a cough and breathing problems. This inflammation irritates the respiratory tract and increases the production of mucus making breathing more difficult.
Bronchitis is by definition, the inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Bronchi carry air into the lungs. When a person takes a breath through the nose or mouth, the air will travel to the larynx, then the trachea, which will carry the air to the bronchi.
There are two bronchi, left and right. The bronchi branch off smaller and smaller as they get into the lung tissues. These smaller bronchi are called bronchioles and will carry air to the tiny sacs called alveoli. This is where gas exchange takes place – the oxygen moves into the blood, and carbon dioxide moves into the alveoli to be carried out during exhalation.
Bronchitis can be caused by allergies, known as allergic bronchitis, asthma or asthmatic bronchitis, or infections.
Allergic bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi caused by exposure to a substance that a person is allergic to. Breathing difficulty is further worsened due to excessive mucus caused by allergies. Individuals with bronchitis tend to have even more mucus and phlegm compared with those who don’t have bronchitis.
Inhaled allergens like dust, pollen, mold spores, and various chemicals are more likely for allergies to cause bronchitis. Smokers often have this condition because cigarette smoking irritates the respiratory tract.
Bronchitis can be experienced short-term between 7-10 days. In this case, it is called acute bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as bronchitis lasting longer than 3 months. It is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).
The second COPD disease is emphysema. In emphysema, alveoli weaken and rupture, leading to breathing difficulties as less amount of oxygen will reach the bloodstream.
Both chronic bronchitis and emphysema tend to worsen over time. They happen more often in smokers and those exposed to other pollutants.
Allergic Bronchitis Symptoms
Whether it is acute or chronic bronchitis, the symptoms may include a productive cough, fatigue, shortness of breath, wheezing, chest discomfort, and fatigue. The sputum can be clear, white, yellowish, greyish, or rarely with small amounts of blood. Fever and chills may indicate that bronchitis is caused by a bacterial or viral infection.
While symptoms of acute bronchitis typically last up to 10 days, chronic bronchitis is associated with a productive cough that lasts three months or more with recurring bouts for at least two consecutive years. Someone with chronic bronchitis can also experience acute flare-ups due to an infection.
Notice the difference between the symptoms of bronchitis and those of common allergies. Allergy symptoms include runny, itchy nose; watery, swollen red eyes, coughing, sneezing, itchy skin or hives, and fatigue. Bronchitis symptoms affect the lungs, bronchi, and breathing.
Allergic bronchitis can also lead to complications like lung infections or pneumonia. Furthermore, pneumonia may complicate septicemia or infection in the bloodstream, a life-threatening condition. These bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics.
It is important to seek medical attention when the cough worsens or lasts more than 3 weeks, fever is higher than 100.4 Fahrenheit, presence of wheezing and shortness of breath, and if the mucus becomes discolored or bloody. You should also seek medical advice if these symptoms prevent you from sleeping and interfere with your daily activities.
Allergic Bronchitis: Diagnosis and Treatment
A doctor will perform a physical examination by listening to the lungs and heart with a stethoscope. Sputum tests can reveal if there is an infection or an allergen that triggered the symptoms.
Chest X-rays are helpful to detect pneumonia and other complications, especially for smokers. Pulmonary tests can help evaluate if there is associated asthma or emphysema.
In terms of treatment, it is important to manage the underlying condition, in this case, the allergy, as much as possible. This means avoiding exposure to the allergen and using medication for symptom relief.
Both allergic and asthmatic bronchitis can be treated with bronchodilators. These are medicated inhalers that relax the muscles around the airway and make the breathing easier.
Short-term bronchodilators work fast, but only in the short term. Long-acting bronchodilators need some time to work but help manage the symptoms for a longer period.
Steroid inhalers help decrease inflammation of the bronchi, reduce coughing and improve breathing.
Mucolytic drugs have mucus thinning qualities, making the mucus less sticky and thus easier to eliminate.
Oxygen therapy is reserved for severe allergic bronchitis when the levels of oxygen are too low. Pulmonary rehab classes are usually recommended for chronic bronchitis. Rehab classes involve special exercises designed to improve breathing. Some classes also teach a person how to reduce exposure to allergens.
A humidifier can help make the indoor air warm and moist, thus helping relieve the cough and loosen the excess mucus. However, it is important to clean and maintain this humidifier to avoid the accumulation of mold or bacteria in the water container.