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Bronchitis (cont.)

Chronic Bronchitis Diagnosis

Health-care professionals diagnose chronic bronchitis on the basis of the patient's symptoms and physical examination. By definition, chronic bronchitis must persist for most days of the month, for at least three months, and at least two years in a row. A history of smoking is also pertinent in making the diagnosis.

  • Usually no blood tests are necessary.
  • If pneumonia is suspected, a chest X-ray may be ordered.
  • Oxygen saturation (how well oxygen is reaching the blood cells) may be measured by placing a sensor on the finger. This is referred to as pulse oximetry.
  • Pulmonary function testing by a pulmonologist may be helpful in diagnosing chronic bronchitis.
  • A microscopic examination and/or culture of a sample of phlegm may be obtained to look for a bacterial infection.

Chronic Bronchitis Self-Care and Home Remedies

  • Adequate fluid intake is important because fever causes the body to lose fluid faster. Lung secretions will be thinner and easier to clear when the patient is well hydrated.
  • A cool mist vaporizer or humidifier can help decrease bronchial irritation.
  • An over-the-counter (OTC) cough suppressant may be helpful. Preparations with guaifenesin (Robitussin, Breonesin, Mucinex) will loosen secretions; formulations with dextromethorphan (Benylin DM, Mucinex DM, Robitussin DM, Vicks 44) suppress cough.
  • Natural treatments and home remedies for chronic bronchitis include foods that have properties that reportedly reduce bronchitis symptoms. These foods include:
    • honey,
    • lemon,
    • ginger,
    • bay leaf, and
    • almonds.
  • Consult with a health-care professional before taking or using any natural remedies, and tell your health-care professional about all supplements and herbal remedies you use.

Chronic Bronchitis Medical Treatment

Treatment of chronic bronchitis can differ depending on the suspected cause. There is no cure for chronic bronchitis, and treatment is aimed at reducing symptoms and improving lung function.

  • Medications to help suppress the cough or loosen and clear secretions may be helpful. If the patient has severe coughing spells that cannot be controlled, a doctor may prescribe prescription-strength cough suppressants. In some cases, only these stronger cough suppressants can stop a vicious cycle of coughing which leads to more irritation of the bronchial tubes, which in turn causes more coughing.
  • Bronchodilator inhalers will help open airways and decrease wheezing.
  • Albuterol (Proventil, Ventolin) and/or ipratropium (Atrovent) nebulizer treatments may be recommended.
  • Corticosteroids may be prescribed to decrease the inflammation in the airways. These may be used as inhaled corticosteroids such as fluticasone (Flovent) and budesonide (Pulmicort), or taken orally such as prednisone and methylprednisolone (Medrol).
  • Though antibiotics play a limited role in treating chronic bronchitis, they become necessary in some situations.
    • If the doctor suspects a bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed.
    • People with underlying chronic lung problems may also need to be treated with antibiotics.
  • In severe cases of chronic bronchitis, home oxygen may be necessary.
  • In rare cases, the patient may be hospitalized if they experience breathing difficulty that doesn't respond to treatment. This usually occurs because of a complication of chronic bronchitis, or in individuals with other underlying lung problems.

The affected individual should follow-up with their health-care professional regularly to monitor their chronic bronchitis, especially during flare-ups.
Call the doctor's office if any new problems or acute worsening of symptoms occur.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 8/4/2017
Medical Editor:

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