Doctor K: Smoking worsens bronchitis

DEAR DOCTOR K: After years of smoking I’ve developed chronic bronchitis. Every morning I cough up lots of mucus. What can I do to control this cough?

DEAR READER: Chronic bronchitis is a common form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD refers to a group of disorders that damage the lungs and make breathing increasingly difficult over time. Most cases of COPD are related to cigarette smoking.

In chronic bronchitis, the lungs’ airways become inflamed and their mucus-producing glands become enlarged. These enlarged glands produce too much mucus, triggering the cough you described.

Unfortunately, no treatment can fully reverse or stop COPD. Instead, treatment aims to relieve symptoms, treat complications and minimize disability.

The first and most critical step is to quit smoking. If you continue to smoke, your symptoms will get worse.

Treatments that may help include:

• Avoid exposure to dust or chemicals at work, outdoor air pollution and secondhand smoke. Also avoid other airborne toxins, such as deodorants.

• Bronchodilators open up the airways. Daily inhaled corticosteroids can reduce airway inflammation.

• Regular exercise encourages your tissues to use the limited amounts of oxygen they receive more efficiently.

• Drinking enough fluids can help keep mucus watery and easy to drain.

• Supplemental oxygen will help get enough oxygen into your blood.

Other things you can do to minimize your symptoms:

• Avoid outdoor activities when air pollution levels are high.

• Avoid contact with anyone with an upper respiratory tract infection.

• Wash your hands frequently to prevent illness.

• Get vaccinated against influenza and pneumococcal pneumonia. Your weakened lungs are more severely affected by these infections if you get them.

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