- Bronchitis symptoms include a sore throat, headache and tiredness
- Risk reduced by avoiding smoking
- It is an infection of the main airways of the lungs
- Airways become inflamed, and causes a gunky build up
- If you have acute bronchitis, your cough may last for several weeks
Bronchitis is an infection that targets the main airways of the lungs.
It causes them to become irritated and inflamed, leading to a persistent cough and sensation of a gunky build up.
In most cases the condition clears up in a few weeks, but for some people it can remain.
Known as chronic bronchitis, scientists have long been mystified as to why it won’t get better – until now.
A study by the University of North Carolina has found sufferers of chronic bronchitis have an unusually high level of mucins in their body.
Mucins are proteins that make mucus thick, and the higher they are the more severe the symptoms – including coughing and phlegm production.
Researchers now believe measuring mucins could help the condition be diagnosed and treated more effectively.
It is thought new drugs could be created to reduce mucin concentrations and relieve symptoms.
What’s more, patients with high levels of mucins could be treated even before they develop chronic bronchitis.
“Until now, we have had little knowledge of what causes the airway mucus accumulation that plagues chronic bronchitis patients, and the only way we have to diagnose chronic bronchitis is based on what the patient tells us,” said Richard Boucher, study co-author from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“Chronic bronchitis is a very common reason why people see their doctor, and we have had no real understanding how it develops or how to diagnose it. This study is a breakthrough in our understanding.”
Chronic bronchitis differs from acute bronchitis which usually develops after a cold or the flu and goes away within a few weeks.
There are a variety of causes, including breathing in smog and chemicals from household products, but the most common is smoking.
This is because smokers are more prone to bacterial infections.
Smokers with chronic bronchitis are also then at a greater risk of developing a debilitating form of airway inflammation known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
It has no cure and accounts for five per cent of deaths in the UK each year, making it the country’s fifth biggest killer.