Chronic Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes that lasts longer than three months. This respiratory condition is most often brought on by smoking or long-term exposure to dust, fumes, or other air pollution. There is no cure for chronic bronchitis, but treatments, such as bronchodilators, steroids, or oxygen therapy, to ease the symptoms have proven effective.

Chronic bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lasts longer than three months, unlike its relative acute bronchitis, which lasts only a few days. When presenting together, chronic bronchitis and other respiratory disease emphysema make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

According to the CDC, there are about 8.7 million adults diagnosed with chronic bronchitis in the U.S. Additionally, chronic bronchitis accounted for 294,000 visits to the emergency room in 2012, and accounted for 619 deaths in that year.

Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Chronic bronchitis occurs if the lining of the bronchial tubes is constantly irritated and inflamed, causing a long-term cough with mucus. This condition also presents with difficulty breathing, wheezing, and a feeling of tightness in the chest.  People with chronic bronchitis can also get acute bronchitis on top of it, as viruses or bacteria can easily infect the irritated and weakened bronchial tubes. When this happens, the person’s condition worsens for several days while the secondary infection takes hold.

Smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis and there is no cure; as such, smokers are urged to quit before it even begins. With early diagnosis and treatment, however, sufferers of chronic bronchitis can enjoy a better quality of life.

The first step to treatment is to remove the source of lung irritation: most often, in this case, smoking. If other lung irritants like fumes or dust contributed to the development of chronic bronchitis, it is important to avoid areas with heavy air pollution. If one must enter an area with fumes or dust, then a proper-fitting mask is recommended.

Besides removing the source of irritation, other treatment options for chronic bronchitis include medication that opens the airways, such as bronchodilators, which are inhaled, or steroids, which are either inhaled or taken via pill). Oxygen therapy has also been recommended as a treatment for chronic bronchitis, which allows for easier breathing and provides much-needed oxygen to the body.

Chronic bronchitis is a very serious, long-term condition that can truly affect your life. Difficulty breathing makes all other activities difficult—any active hobbies a sufferer of chronic bronchitis might have had could now be impossible. With proper preventative care, however, a vast majority of people can avoid developing this debilitating respiratory condition. For those who currently suffer from chronic bronchitis, treatments such as oxygen therapy and medicine can help alleviate the symptoms associated with the disease.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about chronic bronchitis, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: August 1, 2023


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