Bronchitis is a condition of inflammation of the bronchial tubes in the lungs. The inflammation causes breathing difficulty and a buildup of mucus that can lead to infection.
Chronic bronchitis is when an individual has a productive cough (that produces phlegm) for most of a month, at least three times per year. If it occurs two years in a row, the diagnosis of chronic bronchitis can be made.
The long-term inflammation causes an irritating cough, reduced airflow, thickening of the lining of the lungs, excess mucus production, and eventual scarring of the lungs. Because of these factors, infections become more frequent.
By far the most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. Often passed off as “smoker’s cough,” if left untreated it could eventually lead to much more serious problems. Other potential contributing factors are pollution and irritants like fumes and dusts in the workplace.
Emphysema can eventually develop with chronic bronchitis, so early detection and treatment is important. If exposure to smoke or irritants is the cause, it is important that exposure be stopped before treatment can be effective.