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When a Cold Becomes Bronchitis

When you catch a cold, do you often become bronchitis, which is sometimes called a chest cold? It is important to recognize what is normal and to know when something more serious happens. This is what you should know when that unpleasant cold turns into bronchitis.

Should I call the doctor about a cough?

Cough is a common symptom of a cold. It is the body’s way of getting rid of phlegm or mucus. But if the cough persists after the cold disappears, contact your doctor.

It is helpful to tell your doctor how long you have had a cough. You should also tell the doctor if any activity or exposure seems to make things worse, if you notice any other different or unusual feelings, and if you cough up mucus.

If you are coughing with thick green or yellow phlegm, or if you wheeze, have a fever higher than 101 F, have night sweats, or cough up blood, you should see a doctor. These may be signs of a more serious illness that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

A persistent cough can be a sign of asthma. Sometimes, this condition is called “variant cough asthma.” Triggers for asthma variant cough include respiratory infections such as cold or flu, dust, cold air, exercise or allergens. Asthma can be responsible for up to 25% of all chronic coughs. Until an asthma attack occurs, you may not realize that your lungs are involved.

What is bronchitis or chest cold?

Bronchitis, sometimes called a chest cold, occurs when the airways in the lungs become inflamed and produce too much mucus. There are two basic types of bronchitis:

Acute bronchitis is more common and is usually caused by a viral infection. Acute bronchitis can also be called a chest cold. Episodes of acute bronchitis may be related and made worse by smoking. This type of bronchitis is often described as worse than a common cold, but not as severe as pneumonia.
Chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two or three months a year for at least two years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis?

Symptoms of bronchitis include:

A frequent cough that produces mucus.

A lack of energy
A wheezing sound when breathing.
A fever
Should I call the doctor about bronchitis?
Consult your doctor if you have any of these symptoms:

A cough that lasts more than two or three weeks.
A fever
A cough that produces thick or colored blood or mucus.
Any difficulty in breathing or wheezing
Can I treat bronchitis at home?
If you have bronchitis you should:

Drink fluids every one or two hours, unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake.
Break
Do not smoke
Relieve body aches by taking an NSAID such as ibuprofen or naproxen or another analgesic such as paracetamol (Tylenol). (If you are taking other medications, talk to your doctor to make sure that an NSAID or acetaminophen does not interfere with them.) Children should NOT take aspirin.Cough and cold medicines should not be given to children under 4 years of age.
Follow your doctor’s instructions on ways to help clean up your mucus.
If you are coughing up mucus, consider how often you cough, as well as the color and amount of mucus. Inform this to your doctor.
If you have a dry cough and cough little or no mucus, your doctor may prescribe a cough medicine to suppress your cough. He or she can also prescribe an expectorant to help loosen the mucus so it can be more easily coughed up.

Because viruses cause most cases of bronchitis, antibiotics will usually not be useful or necessary. The exceptions would be bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection or bronchitis in a person who has altered lung function.

How can I avoid getting bronchitis?

Do not smoke
Do not let others smoke in your house.
Avoid or reduce your time around things that irritate your nose, throat and lungs, such as dust or pets.
If you catch a cold, rest a lot.
Take your medicine exactly as your doctor tells you.
Eat a healthy diet.
Wash your hands often.
Do not share food, cups, glasses or eating utensils.

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