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Lung diseases

Bronchitis or Cough Due to a Cold

01/06/2011

Question:

I have pulmonary hypertension, asthma, anemia, high blood pressure and RA. Last year I had bronchitis 4 times. I have never smoked. Every time I get a cold I get a bad cough. My asthma is triggered by viral infections, cold air and exercise. The medications that I take for my RA has caused me to have a weakened immune system. I get the flu shot every year. How can I tell if it is bronchitis that causing my cough? Is it how long I have the cough for? I had a cough for 3 months last year before I found out it was bronchitis. Is there any way that I can prevent bronichitis?

Answer:

Unfortunately, there is no single way to prevent bronchitis. Not smoking and making sure you are up to date on any recommended immunizations (such as the flu shot, the pneumonia shot, and whooping cough if appropriate) are some of the best things you can do (and it sounds like you are already doing them!). In addition, if you are on medications which suppress your immune system, it is wise to stay away from people who have respiratory symptoms and to stay away from crowds during peak flu season if you can help it. Careful hand washing is also extremely helpful. 

It is also very important to make sure that your asthma is as well controlled as it can be. Often times, we find that patients with asthma who have frequent episodes of "bronchitis" or long periods of otherwise unexplained cough may actually be having symptoms which are related to their asthma. To help determine if your asthma is playing a part, you would want to monitor your daily peak flow rates (ask your doctor how if you are not routinely doing this) and you would want to pay careful attention to the amount and quality of sputum or phlegm you are coughing up. Changes in the quantity or quality of the sputum should be discussed with your doctor as well.

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Response by:

Jennifer  McCallister, MD Jennifer McCallister, MD
Clinical Assistant Professor of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care & Sleep
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University