Chronic bronchitis symptoms can easily be dismissed as a nagging smoker’s cough. The characteristic productive and persistent cough experienced by many smokers is one of the early symptoms of emphysema. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) symptoms include both the productive cough associated with chronic bronchitis and the shortness of breath that results from emphysema. The smoking facts on emphysema reveal that damage to the lungs cannot be reversed and you must quit smoking cigarettes to avoid complications and worsening of the disease.
Smoker’s Cough vs Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms
Anytime you are coughing and bringing up mucus it is a clear sign that there is something wrong in the respiratory system. A smoker’s cough is the term used to describe the productive persistent cough that occurs (usually in the morning) in smokers. It occurs as a result of damage to the lungs.
The way the body normally keeps the respiratory tract clean is by trapping foreign particles and dust in mucus that is secreted by the lining of your respiratory passages. Tiny hair like structures called cilia use a sweeping motion to move mucus and trapped debris out of the air passages. It is a self cleansing mechanism that works 24 hours a day without any conscious effort from you.
Smoking however, damages this system and destroys these fine hair like particles. Without cilia to sweep that mucus out of there it builds up overnight. The only way that you can remove it is by coughing. This is why smoker’s cough is worse in the morning.
If you have smoker’s cough your ability to protect your respiratory tract from infection is compromised. Because of this you will be more prone to upper respiratory infections. An infection in the upper respiratory tract is what causes bronchitis. The word bronchitis literally means inflammation of the airways.
Acute and Chronic Bronchitis
If you get acute infection in your airways, the symptoms will most likely be a fever, tightness in your chest, and a build up of mucus in the airways which will cause wheezing and a productive cough. This will resolve itself as your body fights the infection, disables the invading pathogen and then heals itself and restores everything back to normal functioning.
In contrast, chronic bronchitis is not an infection but is caused by inflammation. Symptoms occur because of damage to the self cleaning mechanism of the air passages. The lining of the air passages become chronically inflammed as a reaction to the constant irritation caused by cigarette smoke. The cilia are destroyed and cannot do the required “sweeping” necessary to keep the air passages clean. Debris becomes trapped in the mucus and accumulates there. As it builds up the airways become obstructed stimulating your cough reflex and as a result you cough and cough until the mucus is expelled.
If you develop chronic bronchitis, the symptoms will be coughing up yellow or green sputum along with shortness of breath. There will not be any fever or malaise because no infection is present and the symptoms will not get better over time, in fact they will get worse.
The constant obstruction of the airways with mucus eventually leads to emphysema making it difficult to get good gas exchange in the lungs. As a result the main symptoms of emphysema are shortness of breath and fatigue.
Once emphysema and chronic bronchitis are present together you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (or COPD). Symptoms include the combined symptoms of emphysema and chronic bronchitis (shortness of breath and productive coughing) because once the lung damage starts both conditions will always be present together.
With all of the damage to the lungs there is a real risk of infection and any infection of the airways can become an infection of the lungs or pneumonia. Pneumonia that occurs in lungs already damaged and filled with mucus is much more likely to be fatal than if it occurs in normal lungs.
If you are a smoker and you have a persistent cough, do not dismiss it as an allergy, a chest cold or even smoker’s cough. Chronic bronchitis symptoms such as a productive cough are a sign that there is already damage in your airways and that you are on your way to developing emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
If you have chronic bronchitis symptoms and continue to smoke cigarettes your lung function will get worse. Chances are you will progress to develop emphysema and chronic obstructive lung disease. While medical interventions can help to control and relieve some COPD symptoms, the disease process itself cannot be stopped unless you quit smoking cigarettes.