What is plastic bronchitis?

Plastic bronchitis is an unusual respiratory condition in which materials accumulate in the airways, forming a cast and impeding the patient's ability to breathe. These casts have a rubbery texture and contain varying levels of fibrin and mucin, depending on the circumstances leading to their formation. Sometimes patients are able to cough up the casts, and in other cases they must be removed during surgery or bronchoscopy to clear the patient's airway. Plastic bronchitis is mainly seen in children and adolescents.

This condition appears to be related to some congenital heart conditions and can also develop in other circumstances. The patient often experiences several days of discomfort with cough and pale sputum production and may have shortness of breath. Strange breath sounds, crackling noises in the lungs, and a feeling of tightness and tightness in the chest may also be experienced in a patient with plastic bronchitis. Patients can also develop problems associated with not getting enough oxygen, such as cyanosis, where the extremities begin to turn a bluish-gray color.

Patients who do manage to cough up the casts will produce a remarkably detailed model of their bronchial tubes and should experience relief after the cast has cleared. In cases where patients are unable to cough up the cast, medical imaging will usually reveal airway obstructions and the patient can be treated to remove them. Additional treatment when the airways are clear may include medications to treat inflammation and infection, along with treatments to limit mucus production to prevent new molds from forming.

People at risk for plastic bronchitis can be warned in advance so they know to watch out for symptoms. Heart conditions are often associated with respiratory problems, and being aware of the increased risk of respiratory conditions can help patients take steps to avoid them or treat them early when they appear. This may include exercising common sense to prevent infection, as well as the use of prophylactic antibiotics when recommended.

The relative rarity of this condition can make diagnosis difficult, especially in an area where doctors are unlikely to see many cases. Patients with respiratory distress may not be identified as possible cases of plastic bronchitis until imaging of the lungs can be performed to identify airway obstructions, and treatment may be delayed by uncertainty about how to proceed. Most medical facilities have the staff and equipment to perform a bronchoscopy and remove casts before they further obstruct the airway.

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