What you need to know about bronchitis

Bronchitis is inflammation or swelling of the bronchial tubes (bronchi), the air passages between the mouth, nose and the lungs.

Charles Sindabimenya, a specialist in internal medicine at Doctors Plaza Kimironko, says bronchitis describes a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed.

Individuals with bronchitis, he says, have a reduced ability to breathe air and oxygen into their lungs; also, they cannot clear heavy mucus from their airways.


He says bronchitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and other particles that irritate the bronchial tubes.

There are two types of this condition — acute and chronic bronchitis.

He notes that acute bronchitis is a short-term illness that often follows a cold or viral infection, while chronic bronchitis is a long-term illness and can be of the result of environmental factors or extended illness.

He further explains that acute bronchitis is normally caused by viruses, typically those that also cause colds and flu.

“It can also be caused by bacterial infection and exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapours, and air pollution,” he says.

Chronic bronchitis, he says, is caused by repeated irritation and damage to the lungs and airway tissues.

Sindabimenya points out that cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.

Other causes include long-term exposure to air pollution, dust and fumes from the environment, and repeated episodes of acute bronchitis.


For someone to know or realise that they are suffering from both acute and chronic bronchitis, he says, there are signs to watch out for.

He says they include persistent cough, which may produce mucus, wheezing, low fever and chills, chest tightening, among other signs and symptoms.

Janvier Rusizana, a general practitioner at La Nouvelle Clinic in Remera, says one of the main symptoms of acute bronchitis is a cough that lasts for several weeks.

He says it can sometimes last for several months if the bronchial tubes take a long time to heal fully.

For chronic bronchitis, he says, it is common for the symptoms to get worse two or more times a year.

However, Rusizana says, a cough that refuses to go away could also be a sign of another illness, such as asthma or pneumonia, therefore, consulting a medic for proper diagnosis is important. 

Rusizana says patients suffering from bronchitis are usually advised to have good rest, drink fluids, breath warm and moist air, and take cough suppressants and pain relievers to manage symptoms and ease breathing.

He explains that many cases of acute bronchitis go away without any specific treatment, however, people should know that there is no cure for chronic bronchitis.

To keep bronchitis symptoms under control and relieve symptoms, Rusizana says a patient can be given cough medicine.

He goes on to add that although coughing should not be completely suppressed by the medicine, this is an important way to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs.

Examples of the medicines, Rusizana says, include bronchodilators, which help in opening the bronchial tubes and clear out mucus. 

There are also anti-inflammatory medicines and glucocorticoid steroids, which he says are for more persistent symptoms to help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage.

Another alternative when it comes to the treatment of bronchitis, Sindabimenya says, is oxygen therapy, which he says helps improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult.

There are also antibiotics, which according to him are effective for bacterial infections, but not for viral infections. They may also prevent secondary infections.


The most common complication of bronchitis, Rusizana says is pneumonia; this, he says, occurs when the infection spreads deeper into the lungs.

“This infection causes the air sacs within the lungs (alveoli) to fill with fluid,” he says.

He adds that pneumonia is more likely to develop in older adults, smokers, and people with diseases in other organs, and anyone with a reduced immune system.


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