Bronchitis is a condition that causes inflammation to the linings of the lung’s airways. The inflammation results in a productive cough, wheezing, and trouble breathing.
There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis typically forms following an upper respiratory infection, such as a cold, and lasts for a few days or weeks. Chronic bronchitis develops over time. It is persistent and never entirely goes away.
Keep reading for more information on the causes, symptoms, and treatments for managing chronic bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis causes inflammation and mucus production in the bronchi, which are airways in the lungs. The inflammation and mucus cause a productive cough and make it difficult for a person to breathe.
Unlike acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis lasts for at least 3 months at a time and repeatedly recurs over 2 years, according to some reports.
Smoking can increase a person’s risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
According to the American Lung Association, chronic bronchitis and emphysema are the two conditions that commonly comprise chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). According to some reports, as many as 74% of people diagnosed with COPD have chronic bronchitis.
Currently, there is no cure for chronic bronchitis. However, treatments can help manage symptoms and allow for more natural breathing.
Chronic bronchitis develops over time. In most cases, it is the result of long-term or frequent exposure to irritants or small particles that cause damage to the lungs.
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the most common cause of chronic bronchitis in the United States is smoking cigarettes. In addition to smoking, prolonged exposure to secondhand smoke, fumes, or other pollutants can lead to chronic bronchitis.
Several potential risk factors for chronic bronchitis include:
Chronic bronchitis causes a persistent productive cough due to the increased amount of mucus in the lungs and airways.
In addition to a cough, a person may experience shortness of breath or wheezing as a result of inflamed airways.
In addition to the above, other symptoms of chronic bronchitis may include:
Only a doctor can diagnose chronic bronchitis. A doctor will typically perform a physical examination, using a stethoscope to listen for unusual sounds in the lungs.
They will then ask the individual about their symptoms. In particular, they will want to know if the person has had a productive cough that:
- has lasted several months
- has occurred multiple times over 2 years
They will also ask an individual whether they:
- have had exposure to secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, or air pollution
- have a family history of lung disease
In some cases, a doctor may order additional tests, which could include:
- blood tests
- lung function tests
- chest X-rays
To treat chronic bronchitis, a doctor may prescribe:
- the flu and pneumococcal pneumonia vaccines to prevent other respiratory infections
- bronchodilators — typically inhaled medication that relaxes the muscles around the airways to help improve breathing
- steroids to help open the lungs
Oxygen therapy provides additional oxygen either throughout the day or a few times a day. Pulmonary rehabilitation aims to improve a person’s life through counseling, exercises, nutrition, and disease management training.
In some extreme situations, a doctor may recommend a lung transplant. However, a doctor will usually only suggest this if other therapies do not work.
Some steps a person can take to help reduce symptoms of chronic bronchitis at home include:
- avoiding secondhand smoke and irritants
- quitting smoking
- following a balanced, nutritious diet
- getting regular exercise
- using a humidifier
Though a person can take steps to reduce their risk factors, they may not be able to prevent chronic bronchitis.
People can reduce their risk of developing chronic bronchitis by quitting smoking or never starting to smoke.
People can also take steps to protect their lungs when working with potentially dangerous chemicals or around air pollutants.
Eating a healthful diet that includes plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and maintaining an active lifestyle can help improve overall lung function and keep a person healthier.
Chronic bronchitis shares a lot of signs and symptoms with other diseases and conditions.
COVID-19 is a disease caused by the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2. It affects a person’s lungs and airways, and its primary symptoms include a persistent dry cough and breathing difficulties.
Anyone who develops symptoms of coronavirus should speak to their doctor. Those with difficulty breathing or chest pain should seek urgent medical care.
COPD refers to a collection of chronic lung conditions that limit the airways and cause difficulty with breathing.
The conditions that typically comprise COPD include chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
In some cases, a person experiencing signs of chronic bronchitis may have asthma.
Asthma can lead to shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, but it may not always cause excessive mucus.
In less common cases, a person may have another underlying condition. Some less common conditions that cause similar symptoms include:
A person should see their doctor if they have a cough that lasts longer than a couple of weeks, have a cough combined with a fever, or have difficulty breathing.
A person should seek immediate medical treatment if they are struggling to breathe, such as gasping for air.
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition with no cure.
Smoking is one of the primary causes of and risk factors for developing chronic bronchitis, but anyone can develop it.
Treatment can consist of home remedies, medication, and therapies. Following treatment plans can help a person reduce the severity of their symptoms.
Chronic bronchitis is a condition that causes a productive cough that lasts for 3 or more months and happens multiple times over 2 years.
There is no cure, but treatment may help to reduce the severity of symptoms.
A person should talk to their doctor if they have a cough that lasts longer than a few weeks.