DEAR DR. DONOHUE: What’s the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis? I had a cough for about three weeks, and my wife insisted I see a doctor. He said I have acute bronchitis. I am only 30, and I have never smoked a cigarette in my life. My dad has chronic bronchitis. He was a heavy cigarette smoker. Does acute bronchitis turn into chronic bronchitis? – L.R.

Acute and chronic bronchitis are quite different. Acute bronchitis doesn’t become chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is a self-limited inflammation of the airways – the bronchi. Most often, the cause of inflammation is a viral infection, so acute bronchitis is not ordinarily treated with antibiotics. The main sign of acute bronchitis is a cough. The cough can last for a month or more, and coughing might bring up yellow sputum. The yellow is not a sign of bacterial infection. It comes from airway cells that have been shed. They regenerate in time.

Cough is the main sign of chronic bronchitis too. However, it’s a cough that doesn’t go away, and its usual cause is cigarette smoking. Chronic bronchitis is one of the two chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases – COPD. The other is emphysema, and both usually coexist. You’re not going to get what your dad has if you don’t take up smoking.

The booklet on chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases discusses emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in depth. Readers can order a copy by writing: Dr. Donohue – No. 601, Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Enclose a check or money order (no cash) for $4.75 U.S./$6.75 Can. with the recipient’s printed name and address. Please allow four weeks for delivery.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I am 33 and the mother of seven children. Six weeks ago I had surgery to remove my right ovary and tube because of a dermoid cyst. Before the operation, my doctor ordered a CT scan for abdominal pain. That’s how the cyst was discovered. It’s the scan that concerns me. On the second line of findings it says, “Tiny bilateral pleural effusions are suggested.” When I searched the Internet to find what pleural effusions are, I learned they are indicative of cardiovascular disease. Should I be worried? How should I broach the subject with my private physician? – F.H.

The pleura is a double-ply sac enclosing the lungs. Between the two sheets of pleura is a space that allows the two surfaces to glide past each other when you take a breath. Fluid can find its way into that space, and when it does, the condition is a called a pleural effusion.

Many serious conditions cause pleural effusions. Heart failure is only one of them. Liver disease, kidney failure, too little protein in the blood, cancers, serious infections and conditions like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can fill the pleural space with fluid.

However, you don’t need to worry. The report says “tiny bilateral (on both right and left sides) pleural effusions are suggested.” The doctor doesn’t say they’re there. He or she says they might be there. With a CT scan, as little as 2 milliliters of fluid can be detected. Two milliliters is less than a teaspoonful. That’s not enough fluid to keep you awake. You do not have heart failure.

How do you approach your own doctor for clarification? Easy. Just come right out and ask. The doctor won’t be the least bit offended, and I’m sure you’ll get the same answer I have given you.

DEAR DR. DONOHUE: I would like to know if it’s safe and healthy to use an electric blanket or an electric mattress pad. I remember some time ago that people said they are not safe to use. They presented some danger to the body, but I don’t remember what it was.

My 80-year-old husband has a heart problem, and he has to take blood thinner. He is always cold. I thought that an electric blanket or electric mattress pad would help him. – A.P.

Do you mind if I spare you all the background information for and against electric heating blankets and electric mattress pads? I couldn’t make it through the winter without an electric blanket, and I have no intention of giving it up – ever.

Dr. Donohue regrets that he is unable to answer individual letters, but he will incorporate them in his column whenever possible. Readers may write him or request an order form of available health newsletters at P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475. Readers may also order health newsletters from

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