Bronchitis is an inflammation or swelling of the bronchial tubes (bronchi), the air passages between the nose and the lungs.
More specifically, bronchitis describes a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes becomes inflamed or infected. People with bronchitis have a reduced ability to breathe in air and oxygen into their lungs; they also have heavy mucus or phlegm forming in their airways.
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You will also see introductions at the end of some sections to any recent developments that have been covered by MNT's news stories. Also look out for links to information about related conditions.
Fast facts about bronchitis
Here are some key points about bronchitis. More detail and supporting information is in the main article.
- Bronchitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria and other particles that irritate the bronchial tubes.
- Acute bronchitis is a short-term illness that often follows a cold or viral infection.
- Chronic bronchitis is a long-term illness and can be the result of environmental factors or extended illness.
- Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.
- Occupational exposure to pesticides is associated with an increased risk of chronic bronchitis.
- 3.7 million premature deaths worldwide in 2012 are attributable to outdoor air pollution.
- Chest X-ray, lung function testing and blood testing are used to diagnose bronchitis.
- Bronchitis shares many symptoms with the common cold, such as coughing, mucus production and blocked or runny nose.
- Acute bronchitis may go away without any direct treatment.
- Symptoms can be managed at home by resting, drinking fluids and treating pains with acetaminophen and ibuprofen (although ibuprofen should not be used if you are asthmatic).
- There is no cure for chronic bronchitis but there are medications that can relieve the symptoms.
- There are many ways to reduce your risk of developing bronchitis.
What is bronchitis?
Bronchitis may be acute or chronic:
Acute bronchitis is a shorter illness that commonly follows a cold or viral infection, such as the flu. It consists of a cough with mucus, chest discomfort or soreness, fever and sometimes shortness of breath. Acute bronchitis usually lasts a few days or weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is a serious, ongoing illness characterized by a persistent, mucus-producing cough that lasts longer than three months. People with chronic bronchitis have varying degrees of breathing difficulties and symptoms may get better and worse during different parts of the year. If chronic bronchitis occurs with emphysema, it may become chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
What causes bronchitis?
Bronchitis is caused by the inflammation of the bronchial tubes, by viruses, bacteria and other irritant particles.
Causes of acute bronchitis
Bronchitis is usually caused by viral infection.
Acute bronchitis is normally caused by viruses, typically those that also cause colds and flu.
It can also be caused by bacterial infection and exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, such as tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapors and air pollution.
Causes of chronic bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis is caused by repeated irritation and damage of the lung and airway tissue. Smoking is the most common causes of chronic bronchitis, with other causes including long-term exposure to air pollution, dust and fumes from the environment, and repeated episodes of acute bronchitis.
Recent developments on bronchitis causes from MNT news
A study by researchers in South Korea found that snoring influenced the development of chronic bronchitis, but how and why remained somewhat of a mystery.
A new study published in the journal Thorax reports that respiratory disease during early childhood - such as bronchitis, pneumonia and asthma - increases the risk of illness and premature death in adulthood.
On the next page we look at the symptoms of bronchitis and how it can be diagnosed. On the final page we discuss the available treatments for bronchitis and the measures you can take to reduce your risk of getting bronchitis.