Asthmatic bronchitis: double trouble

Asthmatic bronchitis: double trouble

Had a cold, the flu or any other upper respiratory infection lately? Did you give it time to heal properly? If not, don’t be surprised if a secondary infection such as bronchitis puts you back in bed, especially if you are asthmatic too.

Don’t ignore the sniffles 

Most of us take for granted the common cold, flu or other upper respiratory disease especially during the winter months. We are often very blasé about it and do not really give our bodies time to heal properly. It is only when a secondary, more serious infection such as bronchitis develops that we start paying attention. For people with asthma this signals double trouble: a condition called asthmatic bronchitis.

Asthmatic bronchitis

As the name indicates, asthmatic bronchitis refers to the occurrence of acute bronchitis in a person suffering from asthma. Both disorders cause inflammation in the airways, making it difficult to get air to the lungs. They also share symptoms such as coughing and wheezing, breathlessness and tightness in the chest.

    • There are, however, some differences between the two conditions:Bronchitis is usually caused by either a virus or bacteria. Antibiotics may help in case of the latter but are mostly ineffective in fighting viruses. Smoking or working in polluted air may also cause chronic bronchitis
    • Asthma attacks are usually triggered by allergens such as dust, pollen, mould, cigarette smoke, air pollution, animal dander, exercise, stress and a host of other triggers. Long-term asthma control medications as well as short-term “quick relief” medicines are used to control the condition
    • Bronchitis usually produces a productive cough with lots of mucus
    • Asthma usually produces either a chronic, dry, cough or one that may also produce mucus
    • Bronchitis may cause a fever of 40 degrees or higher, a sore throat, lack of energy and fatigue
    • Asthma usually starts in childhood but can also appear later
    • Bronchitis starts up after a previous respiratory infection and can target anyone, at any time.

Treating asthmatic bronchitis

The aim in treating asthmatic bronchitis is twofold:

    1. To reduce asthma-related bronchospasm in the lungs
    2. To reduce the lung congestion caused by bronchitis.

Long-term asthma control medicines are either inhaled or taken orally every day while the quick relief, short-term medications are generally inhaled. Anti-inflammatory medicine may also be prescribed.

Acute bronchitis is treated with antibiotics, if the infection is bacterial and not viral, as well as medicines to reduce body aches and pains and fever. Medication (an expectorant) to help loosen mucus and make it easier to cough it up may also be prescribed. If the cough is dry and hacking, cough medicine may be prescribed to suppress the cough.

It is most important, however, not to self-medicate but to see your doctor and obtain a prescription for the medicine needed. Aspirin and ibuprofen, for example, can cause severe reactions in some people with asthma and should not be given to children. Your doctor may also recommend chest physical therapy (chest percussions by a therapist) to loosen phlegm, or postural drainage (inverting the patient) to promote the coughing up of mucus. Oxygen therapy may be necessary in more serious cases.

Potential complications

Untreated or poorly managed asthmatic bronchitis can have serious repercussions and cause serious complications such as pneumonia, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, recurrent respiratory infections and chronic bronchitis, pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lungs) and respiratory failure that may be fatal.

Warning signs include the following:

    • Excessive chest pain and tightness
    • Bluish colour to the lips or fingernails
    • Coughing up thick, green, yellow or bloody phlegm
    • High fever
    • Night sweats
    • Chocking or difficulty breathing
    • Fainting or becoming unresponsive.

Home treatment

Apart from avoiding exposure to known triggers you can improve asthmatic bronchitis in the following way:

    • Get plenty of rest
    • Drink plenty of fluids
    • Take your medicines as prescribed
    • Breathe moist air from a humidifier and ban all smokers from your presence
    • Eat healthy foods
    • Wash your hands often.

It is of the utmost importance that you do not neglect an upper respiratory illness such as a cold, the flu or bronchitis especially if you already have asthma. Look after yourself and remember that prevention is always better than cure.

Asthmatic bronchitis. 2012. Retrieved from:
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