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Bronchitis And COVID-19

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Bronchitis And COVID-19

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Bronchitis is a lung disease. Read this article to know the risk of COVID-19 associated with bronchitis.

Written by

Dr. Lochana .k

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Muhammad Zubayer Alam

Published At July 3, 2020
Reviewed AtMarch 21, 2023

What Is COVID-19?

COVID-19 has been ruling the world completely. The whole world is clueless about the happenings since the information that has been spread about the virus is unpredictable. It has been very frightening to see the fate of developing countries that are deprived of vaccines and have limited treatment available. From a small animal market, it has become a disease next street. It has been the worst pandemic in the past 100 years. It is still clueless whether it is a natural virus or a human-made virus.

Reports from the World Health Organization have said that children below ten years, the elderly above 60 years, immunocompromised, and others suffering from comorbidities like hypertension, diabetes mellitus, etc., are the individuals at a higher risk. They have a higher chance of acquiring the most severe form of the disease. Also, their recovery could be a question mark. Thus, these individuals have led the most cautious and frightened lives in the last two years. People with known respiratory diseases have higher chances of getting infected with the coronavirus. Coronavirus being a new one, it is difficult to manage it.

What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a disease where the airways of the lungs, known as the bronchus, which aids the passage of air from the upper respiratory tract, especially the trachea, to the lower respiratory tract, are affected. In the disease manifestation, the cells lining the bronchus are inflamed. This condition makes the respiration process difficult.

It usually presents with a deep cough. The cough is initially dry but rapidly progresses to a mucus-producing cough. The other symptoms might be shortness of breath, fatigue, slight fever and chills, chest discomfort, wheezing, cold, and headache.

What Is Acute and Chronic Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is divided into two types based on the disease’s onset and its duration. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic in onset.

In acute cases, the onset is sudden and lasts less than four weeks. It also has a chance of getting resolved very soon with treatment. Sometimes, it can resolve without treatment. It might mimic the common flu. In some cases, it might also progress to pneumonia.

In cases of chronic bronchitis, the person has inflammation of the bronchus lining for a longer period. A patient affected by chronic bronchitis for some other reason might get infected by coronavirus easily and develop even more severe symptoms.

COVID-19 usually presents with the same symptoms as bronchitis. It might be confusing to confirm the diagnosis until proper diagnostic procedures are done. The current tests to confirm COVID-19 are primarily the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Chest CT (computed tomography) scan can be done to note the opacifications typical of the disease.

What Is the Relationship Between COVID-19 and Bronchitis?

Coronaviruses' primary target is the respiratory system. The disease presents with inflammation of the airways of the lower respiratory tract. The lower respiratory tract involves the terminal bronchus, bronchioles, and alveolus. The commonly seen complication of the coronavirus is pneumonia. Chronic bronchitis tends to be one of the easy precursors of pneumonia. These are the reasons explained so far. There are no well-explained studies on bronchitis and coronavirus, only limited information and reports are available, which say that excessive sputum production can be noticed in COVID-19-related bronchitis, which results in chest congestion, coughing, narrowing of the airways, and difficulty breathing, thereby affecting the quality of life.

Are the Symptoms of COVID-19 and Bronchitis Similar?

Bronchitis and COVID-19 affect the respiratory system, so they have similar symptoms, which include,

  • Cough.

  • Nasal congestion.

  • Shortness of breath.

  • Muscle pain.

  • Fever.

  • Headache.

  • Chest pain.

How to Differentiate Between Bronchitis and COVID-19?

COVID-19 and bronchitis have similar symptoms, which may be challenging to differentiate. However, it is essential to find the difference in managing the condition accordingly. The best ways to identify COVID-19 are:

  • Take a COVID test.

  • Loss of taste and smell.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Nausea and vomiting.

  • Coughing.

  • Sore throat.

Is COVID-19 More Serious Than Acute Bronchitis?

Although bronchitis and COVID-19 have a few similarities, COVID-19 is considered severe because it can affect the individual's overall health, leading to complications such as,

  • Multisystem inflammatory syndrome (inflammation all over the body).

  • Kidney failure.

  • Heart attack.

  • Pneumonia.

  • Liver inflammation.

  • Stroke.

  • Death.

However, it is also essential to understand that bronchitis is also severe and can progress to pneumonia, which may increase the risks of death, especially in individuals with weak immunity. So whatever the condition is, consulting the doctor immediately about the symptoms is the key.

What Is the Risk of Coronavirus?

Bronchitis is usually caused by chronic smoking habits or lung infections caused by viruses, bacteria, or even fungi. It limits the person’s normal breathing ability for a while. It might interrupt the breathing pattern for several months. There is a myth that bronchitis causes COVID-19, which is not true. Bronchitis, especially chronic, increases the risk of the person easily progressing to severe forms of COVID-19. This could be challenging, and it could make the recovery of the patient very difficult. The symptoms of COVID-19 in a person with pre-existing lung diseases like bronchitis are confused with the symptoms of usual bronchitis. This is one of the reasons why a chronic bronchitis patient might neglect the symptoms of COVID-19. A person should have an extra eye on the health if person is a bronchitis patient. On the other hand, people with a weak immune system who often acquire opportunistic lung infections by viruses and bacteria also experience bronchitis symptoms. So, those individuals, when they get affected by COVID-19, might mistake it as their regular symptoms of opportunistic infections. This might lead to the negligence of the disease at the initial stages.

How Long Do COVID-19 and Bronchitis Last?

Like the similarity of symptoms, COVID-19 and bronchitis have the same lasting period of about one to two weeks. The cough can last a few more weeks, even after improving other symptoms. Also, bouncing back from bronchitis may occur in a few weeks, but that is not the case with COVID-19. It can take a few weeks or months for the individual to recover from the loss of taste and smell. In addition, symptoms of headaches, fatigue, and shortness of breath can last a few months after the initial illness.

Risk of Self-Medication for Bronchitis:

Due to the pandemic condition around the world, hospitals have become risky places. It is because the risk of getting infected with coronavirus from hospitals is high compared to staying indoors at home. So, due to this fear, people, who get symptoms such as sore throat, fever, cold, headache, fatigue, and other common flu-related symptoms, deny or avoid going to the hospital to seek proper medical care.

Instead, these people choose to self-medicate with over-the-counter medications like Paracetamol, cough syrups, and antihistamines without proper prescriptions from doctors. This practice of self-medication may initially seem to relieve the symptoms, but it might progress the disease to more severe forms. In such cases, breathing is highly restricted in the patient. The risk gets doubled when the patient is known to have acute or chronic bronchitis. This is because the person might keep continuing their usual medicines prescribed for bronchitis, thinking that the symptoms are their usual bronchitis-induced symptoms. When the patient seeks medical care at the late stages of the disease, it might worsen the prognosis.

Happy Hypoxia - The Fatal Silent Killer in both Chronic Bronchitis and COVID-19

Lung damage, which may result from chronic bronchitis, can cause hypoxia due to the destruction of the alveoli or air sacs. Hypoxia develops when the blood does not supply enough oxygen to the air sacs in chronic bronchitis. A low oxygen level in the body is known as hypoxia. It can lead to shortness of breath. Normal oxygen saturation is between 95 to 100 %. Hypoxia-induced shortness of breath is one of the most common clinical symptoms of COVID-19 and chronic bronchitis. But surprisingly, despite hypoxia, some patients with chronic bronchitis and COVID-19 do not appear ill, which does not mean they are not significantly affected.

Patients increasingly present with happy or silent hypoxia, where the body's oxygen levels are below 90 %. Yet, they can still breathe normally, talk, and seem perfectly alert. The patient has no shortness of breath, fast or shallow breathing, and likely no signs, symptoms, or sense that something may be off. Patients are unaware that their bodies are deprived of oxygen. While they should be gasping for air, they appear perfectly healthy.

The pulse oximeter can detect dangerously low oxygen levels, and computed tomography of the chest show features of pneumonia. Silent hypoxia can eventually develop shortness of breath.

Still, lung damage has already gotten worse, and a high-flow oxygen supply or ventilator cannot help them to back from death. It is assumed that the lungs are affected by blood clotting. The lungs may develop silent hypoxia. Patients with chronic bronchitis or COVID-19 or both should measure their oxygen saturation rate with a pulse oximeter to exclude hypoxia. It is very much essential to save their lives.

What Are the Precautionary Measures?

The basic prevention is staying indoors and getting COVID-19 vaccinations on time, including booster doses. If the patient is a working individual, adequate personal hygiene measures must be practiced. Personal hygiene practices include proper handwashing techniques, wearing masks without fail, and following adequate social distancing. The World Health Organization suggests the proper social distancing to be a minimum of six feet or two meters. The patient must not only use masks but also has to dispose of the used masks properly to avoid contamination of the living area by the virus.

The virus is known to live on contact surfaces for about 72 hours, so properly disinfecting surfaces and the workplace with disinfectants is mandatory. Hand washing must be done for at least 20 seconds by following the proper handwashing technique using soap and water. For individuals whose work conditions do not permit hand washing must carry hand sanitizers to disinfect their hands whenever needed.

Along with these protocols, getting vaccinated is essential to break this chain of transmission. Schedule an appointment with the doctor if a person is still not vaccinated.

Conclusion

Above all, bronchitis patients must follow their routine medications without fail. They should avoid all possible triggers like allergens. It might cause an acute flare-up of bronchitis. Whenever there are uncommon symptoms experienced, or if the person feels the condition of bronchitis is worsening, the person must seek adequate medical care from doctors. Preventing a bronchitis patient from getting infected by COVID-19 also requires the support and care of family members.

For further assistance, call a doctor online.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

Are Symptoms of COVID-19 and Bronchitis Similar?

Some symptoms, such as cough, shortness of breath, and flu-like symptoms, that are symptoms of COVID-19 mimic bronchitis. Confirmation can only be done by undergoing a COVID test. However, both these conditions can lead to pneumonia.

2.

How Concerning Is Bronchitis With COVID?

Bronchitis can result from infections or environmental factors, and if a patient with bronchitis acquires COVID infection, it can lead to more serious complications. There can be more lung damage and increased breathing difficulties in case of COVID infection in bronchitis patients.

3.

How Long Can One Be Contagious With Bronchitis?

Bronchitis, when caused due to a viral infection, can be contagious for a few days up to a week. In chronic bronchitis, the person can be contagious for up to three weeks. If the cause is due to bacterial infection, then the individual can be contagious for up to 24 hours.

4.

How to Know if Lungs Are Infected With COVID?

If COVID infection starts spreading, it first affects the respiratory system causing shortness of breath, cough, and chest pain. Respiratory inflammation can be seen in a chest X-ray or a CT scan of the chest. COVID complications include bronchitis, pneumonia, and sepsis.

5.

Should One Stay at Home if Affected With Bronchitis?

If bronchitis is caused due to a viral infection, it can be contagious to other persons. It is better to stay at home and avoid contacting people to prevent the spread of infection. Proper rest, adequate fluid intake, and over-the-counter medications and humidifiers can help ease the symptoms. Avoid smoking, caffeine, and alcohol intake.

6.

How Does a Bronchitis Cough Sound?

Cough in bronchitis patients can sound like a rattle with a whistling or wheezing noise. When breathing out, it sounds like a low-pitched snoring. At the start of the infection, there can be a dry cough, but as it progresses, it can be accompanied by white mucus.

7.

Is Bronchitis Spread by Coughing?

Bronchitis caused due to a virus can be highly contagious and spread through droplet infection. If a person sneezes or coughs, the droplets contain an infective virus, and a non-infected person, when in contact, can acquire the infection.

8.

Do COVID-Infected People Cough up Phlegm?

Dry cough is the predominant symptom of COVID infection. However, in some patients, due to lung congestion, there can be coughing with phlegm. In one-third of the COVID-affected population, there can be phlegm accompanying the cough.

9.

What Will the Doctor Prescribe for Bronchitis?

Based on the cause of the infection, a doctor may prescribe medications. If the infection is due to bacteria, an antibiotic is prescribed, and antiviral medications are prescribed in cases of viral infection. Albuterol is the most commonly prescribed bronchodilator for easing the symptoms.

10.

What Is the Most Evident Symptom of Bronchitis?

A cough that lasts more than two to three weeks can be a symptom of bronchitis. There can be a nagging cough that brings up mucus often, but in some people, there can be a dry cough. The cough also sounds like a rattle with a wheezing sound.

11.

How to Self-Test for Bronchitis?

Evident symptoms like chronic cough and cough with phlegm can denote a bronchitis infection. First, however, the physician may ask for a thorough medical history, compare it with symptoms, and conclude a diagnosis after interpreting the laboratory and diagnostic investigations.
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Dr. Muhammad Zubayer Alam
Dr. Muhammad Zubayer Alam

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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