What Causes Bronchitis and When Should You Visit an Urgent Care for It?

If you have a persistent cough that's taking a long time to go away, you may be suffering from bronchitis. Bronchitis occurs when a virus or bacteria infects the bronchi and bronchioles in your lungs. These are the tubes that carry the air you breathe deeper into your lungs.

While bronchitis isn't life-threatening, it can sometimes progress to pneumonia if the infection spreads. In addition, pneumonia symptoms can sometimes be mistaken for bronchitis. Pneumonia is a condition that can be life-threatening, especially in the elderly, so it's important to make sure your bronchitis is adequately treated. To learn more about what causes bronchitis and when you should visit an urgent care for help with your symptoms, read on.

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

The primary symptom of bronchitis is a constant need to cough. The cough is productive, which means that you'll expel mucus whenever you're coughing. While coughing up mucus isn't a fun experience, it's helping you recover — viruses and bacteria become trapped in the mucus, so you're removing them from your lungs every time you cough.

In addition to the constant cough, bronchitis also often causes a sore throat. Even though the infection is in your bronchi and bronchioles rather than your throat, the heavy coughing can cause your throat to become extremely irritated.

What Causes Bronchitis?

Bronchitis often occurs after you've had a cold or the flu. The pathogen that caused your previous illness can migrate lower into your lungs, allowing it to infect your bronchi and bronchioles. The infection causes them to become inflamed, and the irritation from the inflammation causes you to cough frequently.

You're more likely to develop bronchitis if your lungs are already irritated. For example, smokers and people who work in dusty environments are more susceptible to developing bronchitis — the constant irritation makes it more difficult for your lungs to fend off pathogens.

When Should You Visit an Urgent Care for Bronchitis?

You should visit an urgent care for your bronchitis symptoms if they're preventing you from sleeping at night or if the constant coughing is interfering with work. An urgent care can take a culture of the mucus you're coughing up in order to determine if the bronchitis is caused by bacteria or a virus. If it's bacterial bronchitis, they can prescribe antibiotics for you that can help you overcome the infection quicker.

You'll also need to go to an urgent care if your bronchitis begins turning into pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection in the small sac-like structures in your lungs called alveoli. The alveoli are where the oxygen you breathe in and the carbon dioxide in your blood is exchanged. An infection in the alveoli causes them to fill with fluid, which hampers their ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide. As a result, you'll feel short of breath when you have pneumonia due to the high level of carbon dioxide in your bloodstream.

If you're suffering from bronchitis and it's interfering with your sleep or work, visit an urgent care service in your area to see if the infection is caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can help you get better much quicker. Even if it's caused by a virus, an urgent care can suggest medication that helps reduce how frequently you're coughing. If you decide to not visit an urgent care for your bronchitis, you should at least watch for pneumonia symptoms. If you begin to experience shortness of breath, visit an urgent care as soon as possible — pneumonia can be life-threatening, so it's something that needs to be treated as an emergency.