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How is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

How is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

Bronchitis and the common cold are so closely connected that it’s easy to consider them the same malady. However, that’s the acute version of bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial passages that produces the thick, discolored mucus that you likely associate with a cold. In about 10 days, your symptoms clear up, though the cough may persist. 

Chronic bronchitis could start with a cold or other respiratory infection, but it lasts longer than a couple of weeks. It may also be diagnosed if you have frequent occurrences, with or without respiratory infections, and it can be serious enough to be included in the conditions that comprise chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). 

The doctors at Alpha Internal Medicine are bronchitis specialists and they can help you clear up or manage your bronchitis symptoms when they go beyond the level of a common cold. Diagnosing your condition typically takes an exam, review of your history and, in some cases, diagnostic imaging. 

Causes of bronchitis

The two types of bronchitis, acute and chronic, usually stem from different sources. Acute bronchitis is most often caused by the same viruses that cause respiratory infections like the cold or flu. Unlike pneumonia, antibiotics won’t affect these viral conditions, so acute bronchitis depends on your body to deal with the illness, usually taking between one and two weeks. 

Chronic bronchitis is most often due to cigarette smoking, but exposure to high levels of pollution, dust, or airborne toxins, such as in an industrial setting without personal protective equipment, may also contribute to the continued irritation and inflammation of bronchial tubes. 

Signs and symptoms

A runny nose and feelings of chest congestion are perhaps the most obvious signs of bronchitis. You may also feel tired and achy overall, with or without a low-grade fever. Your breathing may be wheezing or whistling, and the mucus produced by coughing may be discolored yellow or green. 

Diagnosing bronchitis

Most cases of acute bronchitis require only a physical exam, reviewing your symptoms and how long you’ve had them as well as listening to your lungs through a stethoscope. More complex or chronic cases could require additional tests, though these are comparatively rare. 

Since bronchitis shares symptoms with pneumonia, your doctor might order a chest X-ray to rule out bronchitis. If you smoke or have in the past, a chest X-ray may also be used to rule out lung cancer. 

A pulmonary function test helps to reveal asthma or emphysema as causes of your symptoms rather than bronchitis. These tests have you blowing into a device called a spirometer, which measures lung capacity as well as exhale efficiency. A sample of your mucus can reveal evidence of allergies, so a sputum test may be ordered to determine if your symptoms are in response to allergens rather than to bronchitis. 

Generally, an isolated case of bronchitis is no cause for worry, though it’s possible to develop pneumonia from acute bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis can have long-term health impact without treatment. 

When breathing becomes difficult beyond the usual inconvenience of a cold, contact Alpha Internal Medicine, by phone or online, to schedule an exam. You’ll breathe more easily under the care of Dr. Horton and her team. Book your appointment now. 

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