Causes, Treatment, and Prevention of Bronchitis in Old Age

People with bronchitis have the characteristic sign of coughing up thick mucus which is mostly discolored. There are the acute type and the chronic type of bronchitis.

old man coughing into his hands

Bronchitis in old age is not an unusual occurrence, quite a number of old people suffer from this disease because the aging body makes them easy targets of infections like bronchitis. What is bronchitis? This is an inflammation of the bronchial tube linings. These tubes are responsible for carrying air into and out of the lungs. People with bronchitis have the characteristic sign of coughing up thick mucus which is mostly discolored. There are the acute type and the chronic type of bronchitis.

What is Bronchitis? 

This is an inflammation of the bronchial tube linings. There are two types of bronchitis, Acute, and chronic bronchitis.

Two Types Of Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis

This is the most common type of bronchitis which is also referred to as chest cold. 

Chronic bronchitis

It is a severe type caused by the constant inflammation or irritation of the tubes lining. This is usually caused by smoking. 

Both of which often develops from a respiratory infection or a cold. The most common type is acute bronchitis which is also referred to as chest cold. It usually improves in a few days like within ten days without any lasting effects aside from a possible lingering cough.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a severe type caused by the constant inflammation or irritation of the tubes lining. This is usually caused by smoking. A person with recurrent bronchitis is usually suspected to have a chronic type and needs medical attention. Chronic bronchitis is listed under chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases.

types and symptoms of bronchitis

Symptoms of Bronchitis in Old Age

The symptoms that are experienced by older persons do not really differ from that of a younger individual, they may include;

  • Cough
  • Mucus production (it can be green, yellowish-gray, clear or rarely blood-streaked
  • Breath shortness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Chills and slight fever
  • Fatigue

People with acute bronchitis might experience cold symptoms like body aches or mild headaches. These symptoms would improve over a few days, maybe one week with a cough that might linger for a few more weeks.

Chronic bronchitis cough lasts for a longer period of time, it is usually called the productive cough and can stay for as long as three months with frequently recurring bouts for a long time. There may be times when the symptoms worsen, this is caused by an acute form of infection.

You should see a doctor if the cough;

  • Extends for more than four weeks
  • Disrupts your sleep
  • Comes with high temperature
  • Secretes discolored mucus
  • Produces blood
  • Comes with short breath or wheezing

Causes of Bronchitis

Viruses are usually the cause of acute bronchitis, particularly the virus that is responsible for flu and cold. Medications like antibiotics are ineffective in this condition because they do not kill viruses.

For chronic bronchitis, it is caused by cigarette smoking. Other contributing factors include dust, toxic gases, or air pollution.

Risk Factors

Aside from the fact that the immune system weakens as a person gets older there are certainly other  factors that increase the risk of a person having bronchitis, they include:

Cigarette smoking: Individuals who live with a smoker or smoke themselves have high chances of developing either chronic or acute bronchitis.

Low resistance: The human body is naturally made to resist infections but there are times when the resistance level decreases such that bacteria, viruses, and infections have a free reign in the body. Things that can lower resistance are acute illnesses like colds or chronic disease that compromises the immune system. Older adults and children are more vulnerable to this.

Irritants: The nature of some jobs exposes the workers to irritants like textiles or grains or even chemical fumes. This increases the risk of getting bronchitis.

Gastric reflux: Recurrent severe heartburn may irritate the throat increasing your susceptibility to bronchitis.

Diagnosis and Treatment

At the onset, It is usually difficult to distinguish the symptoms and signs of bronchitis form that of the common cold. The doctor would normally place his stethoscope on the patient’s chest to listen to the breathing sounds. There are tests that could be recommended to ascertain the diagnosis such as;

Chest x-ray: This would help to determine the exact cause of the cough, such as pneumonia or any other condition. Smokers need this test more.

Sputum tests: Mucus coughed out form the lungs are called sputum. It can be tested to check if antibiotics may be effective in treating the case. Sputum is also tested for allergies signs.

Test for pulmonary function: In this test, the patient is asked to blow into a spirometer, a device that measures the amount of air the lungs are capable of holding and how fast they can exit the lungs. Signs of emphysema or asthma are also tested here.


If the bronchitis is an acute type then it will most likely get better without any treatment. In cases whereby a bacteria was detected as the cause, antibiotics may be administered but if it is a viral infection then antibiotics would be useless.

Other medications that can be prescribed are;

Cough medicine: This relieves and suppresses cough especially at bedtime

Other medications: Inhalersor anti-inflammatory medications may be given in cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma.

Home remedies can also be used to treat or avoid bronchitis. There are certain measures that need to be taken like avoiding lung irritants. This means staying away from cigarettes, wearing masks in a polluted environment, or when exposed to certain irritants like household cleaners or paints.

You can also make use of a humidifier, the warm and moist air released helps in relieving cough and also loosen the mucus congesting the airways. However ensure that the humidifier is kept clean as recommended by the manufacturer, this is to prevent fungus or bacteria from growing in it.

It is safe for older ones to always put on a face mask when outside the house especially if the air is cold and it causes shortness of breath or worsens the cough.

Bronchitis in old age can be managed and treated effectively even chronic cases, especially if they are noticed early.

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