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Disease: Bronchitis Bronchitis
Category: Respiratory diseases
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Disease Definition:

Bronchitis, which is the inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs, could be either chronic or acute.

Acute bronchitis is a common condition, which usually develops from a respiratory infection, such as a cold.
However, chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition, which is the constant irritation or inflammation of the lining on the bronchial tubes, usually, a result of smoking.

Acute bronchitis usually improves within a few days without lasting effects, although one may continue to cough for weeks. Nonetheless, a person could have chronic bronchitis that requires medical attention in case they have repeated bouts of bronchitis. One of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the chronic bronchitis.
Usually, easing the person's breathing and relieving their symptoms are what treatment for bronchitis focuses on.

Work Group:

Prepared by: Scientific Section

Symptoms, Causes


Some of the signs and symptoms of acute or chronic bronchitis include:


  • Fatigue
  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath, which gets worse with mild exertion
  • Slight fever and chills
  • Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color.

The patient may have a nagging cough that lasts several weeks after the bronchitis resolves, in case it is acute bronchitis. But the symptoms of this disease could be deceptive. When someone has bronchitis, they don’t always produce sputum and children usually swallow coughed-up material, so that parents might not know in case there’s a secondary infection. If a smoker has to clear his/her throat every morning when he/she gets up for more than three months, it could mean that he/she has chronic bronchitis. A person may also develop chronic bronchitis without first developing acute bronchitis.

A person's bronchial tubes could be scarred because of long-term inflammation in case they have chronic bronchitis, which causes excessive production of mucus. The airways could also become scarred over time, and the lining of the bronchial tubes can thicken.

Some of the other signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis may be:


  • Frequent flu or cold, or other respiratory infections, with a worsening productive cough
  • Cough that gets worse in the mornings and in damp weather.

If the patient have chronic bronchitis, he/she is likely to have periods when signs and symptoms worsen. At those times, one may have superimposed acute bronchitis, either viral or bacterial, in addition to chronic bronchitis.

Usually, acute bronchitis resolves on its own in a few days. But a person should see the doctor in the case of:


  • Having a low-grade fever, which persists for more than three days, or a fever that is higher than 38.3 C (101 F), coughing up bloody, yellow or green mucus, or being breathless. A person may have pneumonia. Discolored mucus usually indicates a bacterial infection that would respond to antibiotics. A person could also develop a bacterial sinusitis.
  • Having a cough that lingers for more than three weeks, in which case the inflammation from a chronic infection could lead in some people to asthma.
  • Having a severe enough cough that prevents the person from sleeping, in which case they will be prescribed cough suppressants in order to help them rest.
  • Having repeated bouts of bronchitis, in which case the person may have chronic bronchitis or some other serious health condition, including asthma or bronchiectasis, which is a stretching of the respiratory passages due to mucus blockage.
  • Having asthma, emphysema, congestive heart failure or other chronic lung or heart problems, and suspecting that the person has developed bronchitis. The person will have a greater risk of developing complications from bronchial infections, in case they have any of these conditions.


Acute bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that cause colds. A person's exposure to their own or someone else’s tobacco smoke, and pollutants such as household cleaners and smog could cause the development of noninfectious bronchitis.
Occupational bronchitis could develop in workers that are exposed to certain dusts or fumes. This acute type of the disease usually clears up when exposure to the irritant stops.
In case someone has a condition called GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), which is when acids from the stomach consistently back up into the esophagus (food pipe) and a few drops go into the upper airway, he/she may also develop bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis occurs when inflammation and thickening of the lining of the bronchial tubes become permanent. If someone coughs most days for at least three months a year in two sequential years, they probably have chronic bronchitis. Usually, smokers with chronic bronchitis cough almost every day in the morning, even if it’s just to clear their throats.
Chronic bronchitis is an ongoing and serious disease, unlike acute bronchitis. Although its major cause is smoking, but dust, air pollution or toxic gases at the workplace or in the environment can also contribute to the condition.



Because repeated bouts of bronchitis may signal some serious conditions, they should be taken seriously. These conditions include:


  • Asthma
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Other lung disorders

A person's risk of lung cancer increases beyond the normal risk that smokers face in case they have chronic bronchitis and continue to smoke.

Smokers, people with chronic respiratory disorders or heart problems, infants and older adults are at great risk of getting pneumonia, because even though a single episode of bronchitis usually isn’t cause for concern, however, it could lead to pneumonia in some people.


Relieving symptoms and easing breathing is the major goal of treatment for bronchitis. In some cases, to recover from acute bronchitis a person needs to:


  • Breathe in warm, moist air
  • Rest
  • Take over-the-counter cough suppressant and acetaminophen  or acetylsalicylic acid (for adults).
  • Drink lots of fluid.

A person may be prescribed some of these medications:

Cough medicine:
Because coughing helps remove irritants from the lungs and air passages, it is important not to suppress a cough that brings up mucus. A person should use some over the counter medicine in case their cough keeps them from sleeping, just enough to rest but not enough to suppress their cough completely. They may also be recommended prescription cough suppressant in case their cough is seriously depriving them of sleep.

Antibiotics are not effective for this disease, because it is the result of a viral infection. But someone may be prescribed antibiotics, in case they are suspected of having a bacterial infection. They may also be prescribed antibiotics in order to reduce their risk of a serious, secondary infection in case they have a chronic lung disorder or if they smoke.

Other medications:
A person may be recommended an inhaler in addition to other medications in order to reduce inflammation and open narrowed passages in their lungs in case they have asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease).

Pulmonary rehabilitation is a breathing exercise program in which the patient works with a respiratory therapist in order to learn how to breathe more easily and increase their ability to exercise. Someone should talk to the doctor about this program in case they have chronic bronchitis.


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