Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema symptoms, causes and treatment

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two conditions that are part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) disorder. Since most patients have these two conditions at the same time, medical experts and professionals use the term COPD to address the diagnosis.

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These long-term long conditions are often caused by smoking. While 90% of COPD was caused by smoking, there are other less common causes such as air pollution, genetic conditions, exposure to toxic gases or fumes, and dust.

Chronic bronchitis vs. Emphysema: Symptoms 

Since chronic bronchitis and emphysema affect your lungs, they can exhibit similar symptoms. Here the following symptoms that they have in common:

Shortness with breathing – the sole symptom of emphysema is shortness with breathing. During the early stage, you will not notice the sign. For example, you will only feel the difficulty breathing after doing a long walk, and you will think that it’s normal. But eventually, the shortness of breath can become worse. You may experience shortness or difficulties with breathing while sitting or doing nothing. 

With the case of bronchitis, it is not common to experience shortness of breath, but it may happen. When airway swelling and chronic cough caused by chronic inflammation get worse, you will have difficulty with catching your breath. 

Fatigue – this symptom is present for both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Because breathing is not easy, a person who has these conditions may feel tired most of the time. When the lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body, the next thing that will happen is losing your energy.

Are there any distinct signs or symptoms of emphysema?

Since emphysema is a progressive disease, your symptoms can get worse over time. Although you stop smoking, it will continue to progress or become worse. There is no possible treatment to stop the symptoms, but you can slow them down. 

Aside from fatigue and difficulty breathing, you may also experience some of these complications:

  • losing concentration which leads to difficulty in doing various tasks
  • decrease with your mental alertness
  • a bluish or grayish fingernail which commonly happens after physical activity

These signs will tell you that your emphysema is getting severe. So, as soon as you notice or experience these symptoms, you need to seek medical help immediately. Talking to your doctor and discussing your condition will help you in determining the best treatment plan for you.

Are there any distinct symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis will show more noticeable symptoms compared to emphysema. Aside from fatigue and difficulty breathing, this condition will also cause:

  • Excessive production of mucus – mucus helps the body through catching and removing contaminants. But too much production of mucus is not good. It can clog your airways, which will lead to difficulty breathing.
  • Cough – if you were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, it’s common to have a chronic cough. Since there is an excess production of mucus, the extra fluid will lead to irritation. Your lungs’ natural reaction is to remove the extra mucus, and this is when cough happens. 
  • Fever – low-grade fever or chills can also be a symptom of this condition. But if your fever exceeds 38-degree Celcius, then that may be a sign of another condition.

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema

The possible cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema may include:

  • Smoking – this is the primary reason for these conditions. Smoking leads to the development of COPD, which is a term used to address a diagnosis that includes these two conditions.
  • Air pollution and other pollutants – they can also increase your risk of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People who are in their 40s are at high risk.
  • Chronic gastric reflux – since this condition irritates your throat, it can be a cause of chronic bronchitis. 
  • Alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency – this is a genetic condition that can cause emphysema. This happens if your body is not making enough proteins to help your lungs work efficiently.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Though chronic bronchitis and emphysema almost have the same symptoms, how to diagnose these conditions are different.

How emphysema is diagnosed?

In the present, there is no single test that can diagnose emphysema. As soon as your doctor assess your symptoms and review your medical history, he may perform a physical exam. After all these, your doctor may recommend doing one or more diagnostic tests which may include:

  • Imaging tests
  • Chest X-ray and CT scans of your lungs

Alpha-1 Antitrypsin (AAT) Test – your lung’s elasticity is being protected by AAT. But you may have an AAT deficiency due to genetic factors. With this condition, you have a high chance of developing emphysema though you are not smoking.

Pulmonary Function Test – with this test, your doctor will understand how your lungs are working. Pulmonary function tests can determine the amount of air that your lungs can hold and the manner of airflow in your lungs.

Arterial Blood Gas Test – this is a test that will determine the pH and carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood. With these numbers, your doctor will know the condition of your lungs and how well it is working.

How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?

A person who has experienced three or more episodes of acute bronchitis will be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. But despite recurrent bronchitis, your doctor will still do some tests to determine your COPD accurately. 

The following tests can be performed to diagnose chronic bronchitis:

Imagine tests – chest X-rays and CT scans will be done so your doctor can see the actual condition of your lungs.

Pulmonary Function Tests – with performing this test, your doctor will know the changes with your lung function. 

Arterial Blood Gas Test – this is a test that will determine the pH and carbon dioxide and oxygen levels in the blood. With these numbers, your doctor will know the condition of your lungs and how well it is working.

Treatment of Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema

There is one significant difference between chronic bronchitis and emphysema – chronic bronchitis is reversible, while emphysema is not. 

But there are ways that you can lower your chances of developing chronic bronchitis. You may do the following:

  • Stay away from smoke, and that includes second-hand smoke.
  • Wash your hands regularly, and it’s recommended to use alcohol or hand sanitizer.
  • As much as possible, you should avoid contact with sick people.
  • Make sure to get a flu vaccine. If you are qualified with the pneumococcal vaccine, you should get ut as well. Ask your doctor for a recommendation.
  • Cleaning and chemical sprays can cause bronchitis, so you need to stay away from these pollutants. If you cannot avoid contact with these, wear a surgical mask all the time. 

Your treatment with chronic bronchitis may include:

  • inhaled steroid
  • antibiotics
  • vaccines
  • Bronchodilators 
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation
  • surgery

While there is no cure for emphysema, there are treatments available to aid you with easy breathing. These treatments may also slow down the development of the condition. Some of the doctor recommendations are:

  • inhaled steroid
  • Bronchodilators 
  • antibiotics
  • supplemental oxygen
  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • surgery

In some cases, nutrition therapy is advised. You will need a dietician who will recommend you on the right diet that can help you with easy breathing. Advanced emphysema may give you some hard time with eating, so your dietician can provide you with advice on how you can gain weight. 

What are the normal conditions of chronic bronchitis and emphysema?

To determine your condition, your doctor will perform different tests to check if you have chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or another lung condition. Many tests can help your doctor in making the right diagnosis for you, and the pulmonary function test is one of them. Other tests may include:

  • Spirometry
  • Chest X-ray
  • Arterial Blood Gases
  • Peak Flow Monitoring

Risks of Having Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema

Though these two conditions belong to the diagnosis called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) disorder, they are different when we talk about risks. 

Who is at risk with Chronic Bronchitis?

Influenzavirus types A and B are the most common viruses linked with chronic bronchitis. These viruses can cause flu, parainfluenza, rhinovirus, and Covid19, which cause the common cold. The risk factors of chronic bronchitis may include:

  • allergies
  • air pollutants
  • chronic sinusitis
  • malnutrition
  • lack of pertussis 
  • smoke inhalation
  • exposure to chemicals

Who is at risk for emphysema?

You are at high risk with emphysema because of the following:

  • Smoking is the primary cause of emphysema. So if you are smoking or you are exposed to second-hand smoke, you are at high risk with this condition.
  • Smoking or using marijuana
  • You are living in an environment that is exposed to pollution, lung irritants, and/or chemical fumes.
  • Genetics can also be a cause of emphysema. But this condition is rare.

When to Seek Medical Attention

If you are experiencing the following signs, you must seek for medical condition immediately:

  • Shortness of breath 
  • Persistent cough and wheezing
  • Plan to quit smoking

Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are two serious health conditions that you should not take lightly. When you see the signs and symptoms, act immediately, and avoid worsening your condition.