Do you have a stubborn cough that isn't going? It may be 'seasonal' bronchitis
It is usually caused by environmental changes and constant irritants such as smoking.
Some health issues are unique to periods when seasons change and some others to the season itself. One such is seasonal bronchitis that can affect people of all ages and is more common during winter.
If you are having a cough that doesn't seem to go away, bronchitis could be the reason.
Dr Prashant Shetty, executive director of the biochemistry, haematology and immunoassay department at iGenetic Diagnostics, Mumbai, said: “Seasonal bronchitis is swelling and reddening in your bronchial tree. Your bronchial tree consists of tubes, which carry air into your lungs, and if they get inflamed, eventually they swell and mucus (thick fluid) forms inside them and it becomes hard to breathe.”
According to Dr Ranganath R, consultant of pulmonology at Narayana Health City, Bengaluru, “there is no official term called seasonal bronchitis.” He said this term is used to describe conditions which are exacerbated during a few seasons; for example, asthma gets worsened during spring and winter. Chronic bronchitis worsens in winter and is sometimes called winter bronchitis. “Sometimes these seasonal variations are the initial or only manifestation of asthma, and patients are completely asymptomatic the rest of the year,” he added.
KNOW THE CAUSES
Seasonal bronchitis usually is caused by environmental changes and constant irritants such as smoking. It can be caused either by bacterial infection or by viruses or any exposure to substances that irritate the lungs such as dust, fumes, vapour and air pollution. It remains for a short time and can reoccur. If left untreated, it can lead to pneumonia and can inflame the lungs further, Shetty said.
In many cases, viral attacks could be the culprit. Dr Alok Kumar Dwivedi, consultant-paediatrics and neonatology, Cloudnine Group of Hospitals, Noida, said: “Seasonal bronchitis is commonly associated with viral infections. A small number of cases is due to bacteria like mycoplasma and pertussis. Risk factors are air pollution and tobacco smoke. In healthy children, complications are few whereas in undernourished children, ear infections, sinusitis (infection of the sinuses) and pneumonia are common.”
Symptoms of seasonal bronchitis are similar to some of the symptoms of asthma, pneumonia and other respiratory illness.
Ranganath said: “Usually, symptoms of bronchitis depending on individuals’ predisposition can be short-lived or prolonged. For example, if an individual with no allergic tendency or pre-existing lung pathology develops bronchitis, which is usually secondary to a viral infection, it would last for about a week or two. But for patients with allergic tendency, symptoms tend to last longer. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of airways, often due to smoking.”
Dwivedi explained that the symptoms of seasonal bronchitis are very different from chronic bronchitis. Frequent dry cough, chest discomfort, wheezing, shortness of breath, low-grade fever or no fever indicate that the person is suffering from seasonal bronchitis. Some of the symptoms also include body aches, runny, stuffy nose and sore throat.
Chronic bronchitis in adults is defined as three months or more of productive cough each year for two or more consecutive years, he said.
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BRONCHITIS ISN'T PNEUMONIA
Bronchitis is very common and is caused by cold, flu and viral infection. It may also be called a chest cold. It is worse than a normal cold but not as bad as pneumonia. Pneumonia is a lung infection, which can make you really sick. You can have cough with fever and you may have a hard time breathing. For most people, pneumonia can be treated at home. But some babies and old people may need to be hospitalised, iGenetic's Shetty explained.
However, acute bronchitis is a frequent dry cough of relatively gradual onset of 3-4 days after appearance of rhinitis and absence of fever or mild-grade fever. Depending upon the severity, other symptoms could be chest pain, loss of appetite and bluish tint to the nail and lips. Pneumonia symptoms can be mild or severe based on what causes it — your age and overall health. Cough, fever, shortness of breath, headache and chest pain are some of the symptoms of pneumonia. One must consult a doctor if fever and other symptoms persist, Dwivedi said.
PREVENT IT WITH EASE
Acute bronchitis is more often secondary to viral infection and flu. Vaccine decreases the chances of viral infection. Avoiding cigarette smoke (active and passive) is imperative as smoking increases the risk of respiratory infections. Pollution, fumes, strong smells like paints, etc., should be avoided and washing hands regularly is recommended, said Ranganath of Narayana.
In addition to avoiding exposure to air pollution, Dwivedi said, moving around crowded places and cigarette smoking are a no-no.
Dwivedi said there is no specific therapy for treatment. However, taking rest, having paracetamol for fever or aches or sore throat, taking cough medicine especially if antihistamines and expectorant are not helpful will help. Antibiotics generally should not be used except in cases caused by bacteria. Only patients with recurrent episodes may need antibiotics.
It is important to treat the underlying cause, Ranganath said. If it is acute bronchitis with no allergic tendency or preexisting lung disease, most of the times it is self-limiting and only supportive therapy — like steam inhalation, saltwater gargles, antipyretics such as paracetamol and cough suppressants — is needed. If seasonal bronchitis symptoms are an exacerbation of underlying asthma or chronic bronchitis, then it needs proper evaluation and optimisation of the underlying condition.
Frequent handwashing is recommended if a person is diagnosed with bronchitis.