Acute and Chronic Bronchitis in Older Individuals - Landmark Senior Living


Jan 17 2019

Acute and Chronic Bronchitis in Older Individuals

Post by: Joe Gilmore

Chronic bronchitis is the more severe form of bronchitis and is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In 2016, 8.9 million people were diagnosed with chronic bronchitis and about three-fourths of all cases involved people over the age of 45. Acute bronchitis, sometimes called a chest cold, is the less severe form of the problem and affects about 5 percent of the adult population.

Chronic bronchitis is defined by a productive cough that lasts at least three months and has recurring bouts that occur every few years. On the other hand, acute bronchitis is characterized by mild headaches or body aches, and a cough that may linger for a few of weeks.

There are a number of things that will increase your risk of being diagnosed with both acute and chronic bronchitis. One of the most prominent examples of this is cigarette smoke, even secondhand smoke. Air pollution, dust, and toxic gases in the air can also contribute to the condition.

There are a number of preventative steps that you can take to reduce your risk of bronchitis. Similarly, if the problem is already ongoing, there are some medications that you can take to help alleviate the symptoms to make day-to-day life easier.

Differences Between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is a condition in which the airways in the lungs become inflamed and cause coughing, often with mucus.

Acute bronchitis is different from chronic bronchitis in that it goes away after a few days or weeks. Acute bronchitis is a common issue. Viral infections, like the cold or flue, are usually the cause of acute bronchitis, but it is also sometimes caused by a bacterial infection.

Meanwhile, chronic bronchitis is an ongoing cough or other problem that lasts for several months and can come back two or more years in a row and can sometimes never go away completely. This is caused when the lining of the airways stays constantly inflamed and causes the lining to swell and produce more mucus which can impede breathing.

Risk for bronchitis is higher for those who smoke cigarettes or have asthma and other allergies. One of the most common causes of chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes, however it still occurs in non-smokers as well.

Older individuals are also at higher risk of getting chronic bronchitis. This is, in part, due to the fact that seniors have a weakened immune system that puts them at greater risk of being subjected to these health problems.

The most common symptom of bronchitis is coughing and is associated with mucus production. Other symptoms include:

  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Low fever
  • Fatigue


Generally to be diagnosed with bronchitis a doctor will do a physical exam and will likely need to conduct a blood test to look for signs of infection. A chest X-ray to look at the lungs and bronchial tubes is also normally needed.

Treatment Options

A doctor holding a stethescope. Many individuals go to a doctor to help with their symptoms of bronchitis.

The goal for treatment of bronchitis is to help you breathe better and control symptoms.

As mentioned before, acute bronchitis will normally go away on its own without treatment. However, some over-the-counter medicines that can help reduce mucus and there are anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen that can be used to treat acute bronchitis and even be a preventative measure for chronic bronchitis.

If you have chronic bronchitis, Mayo Clinic recommends trying pulmonary rehabilitation. Pulmonary rehabilitation is a breathing exercise program in which a respiratory therapist teaches you breathing techniques to breathe easier, it will also increase your ability to exercise.

Lifestyle Changes

There are a number of changes you can make to your lifestyle to help prevent and help alleviate problems related to bronchitis. For instance, as mentioned earlier, smoking is one of the most common ways that bronchitis occurs. By quitting smoking you are not only eliminating a large risk of contracting the problem but you are also reducing health risks like cancer and cardiovascular diseases.

Also, using a humidifier will help to warm and moisten the air to help relieve coughs and loosen mucus in the airways. Using a face mask outside for pollution or for cold air will help to reduce exposure to lung irritants and cold air which aggravates coughs and causes shortness of breath.

As mentioned earlier, because older individuals have a weakened immune system, being sure to eat proper foods and nutrients that will keep the immune system working properly is important. Some common foods that will help to maintain your immune system includes garlic, spinach, turmeric, apples, almonds, citrus, kale, and more.

Seeking Help

If you or a loved one is dealing with chronic bronchitis, your best option is to seek out a medical professional who specializes in lung diseases. Your doctor will likely need information about your day-to-day life and habits, because this is the case, it may be easiest to bring a family member along to help answer questions that you may forget.

In Conclusion

Acute bronchitis is a health condition that is somewhat common across adults, affecting about 5 percent of the adult population. Acute bronchitis normally only lasts between three to 10 days, which a cough may linger. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a similar problem but lasts weeks to months at a time and is recurring, coming back every few years. There are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of getting either type of bronchitis. Similarly, there are a number of treatment options and medications that can help you if you are already dealing with acute or chronic bronchitis.

Suffering from bronchitis, and other health problems, can make daily living problematic, especially for seniors living alone. However, assisted living facilities and caregivers can be helpful when dealing with these issues. At Landmark Senior Living, we have care staff ready to help you or your loved one with any medical problem they may have. If you would like more information or are interested in a walk through of one of our independent living facilities, please reach out to our admission staff today.

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