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What You Need to Know About Preventing and Treating Bronchitis in the Elderly

Crystal Jo
By Crystal JoJanuary 9, 2019

Breathing is a simple process until you become sick. Bronchitis affects the ability to get air into and out of the lungs and can be acute –appearing after a cold or flu – or chronic – causing an ongoing cough and swelling.

Learn more about bronchitis in the elderly and what you can do to help your senior loved one prevent the condition.

Bronchitis in the Elderly

People over the age of 65 are at a higher risk for complications related to bronchitis, as a lifetime of damage to the lungs can lead to more severe infections.

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The lungs can be damaged by:

  • Allergies
  • Asthma
  • Dust and fumes
  • Frequent infections
  • High alcohol use
  • Smoking

Seniors can have difficulty clearing bronchitis and fighting off the infection. The shortness of breath and weakness from the condition can also lead to an increased risk for falls.

There are over 8.9 million cases of chronic bronchitis diagnosed a year in adults, resulting in 429 deaths each year, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

How to Prevent Bronchitis

The secret to preventing bronchitis is to keep the lungs free of irritants.

The irritants that will make the lungs more prone to the condition are:

  1. Cigarette smoke.
  2. Dust, fumes and pollutants.
  3. Viruses like colds and influenza.

If you or your senior loved one smokes, reduce the frequency. Try to wash hands frequently using soap and water and plan to stay home if your loved one is sick.

Remember to keep an eye on your parent or senior loved one’s behavior and see if you notice any signs of an infection. You may notice that your loved one is more agitated or appears rundown. Take note if your loved one has a plugged up nose and pay attention to the sound of their voice, especially if you are caring for a senior loved one with dementia, who may have difficulty communicating the symptoms of bronchitis. You may also notice that your loved one is developing a cough that sounds wet and you may hear a wheezing sound.

When to Get Help

Acute bronchitis will not typically need hospital treatment. It is important, however, that you assist your senior loved one to stay well-hydrated. Encourage sips of juice, tea or water throughout the day. Offer liquid-rich meals such as soup and smoothies.

The key is to monitor symptoms and to seek help if the symptoms get worse. A doctor can complete a physical exam, order bloodwork or do a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia.

You will know that you need to see a doctor if your loved one is:

  • Coughing up blood
  • Experiencing chest pain
  • Has a high fever and strong chills
  • Has a strong cough that lasts over seven days
  • Has a green-yellow, thick mucus with a bad smell
  • Has another chronic illness such as heart disease
  • Unable to catch their breath

For most people, acute bronchitis will resolve itself within a couple weeks. Unless there is another infection caused by bacteria, antibiotics are often not necessary. Chronic bronchitis, however, may require regular symptom management.

Be proactive and talk to the doctor about what steps can help your loved one keep their airway clear and help prevent symptoms from getting worse.

Have you, a parent or senior loved one had bronchitis? What steps did you take to prevent and treat the condition? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Crystal Jo
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Crystal Jo
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