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Chronic bronchitis is a long-term disease of the lungs. The airways in the lungs swell and make extra mucus. This makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
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Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the airways. Common causes of lung damage include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Inhaling toxins or other irritants
- Genes that make it easier to damage the lungs—one example is alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for chronic bronchitis. The higher the number of total cigarettes smoked the higher the risk of disease.
Chronic bronchitis is more common in people over 40 years old. Other factors that may increase the risk of chronic bronchitis include:
- Long-term exposure to chemicals, dust, and other substances that have been inhaled
- Long-term cigar or marijuana smoking
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Family members with COPD
- History of frequent childhood lung infections
- Long term asthma
Chronic bronchitis may cause:
- Increased mucus production
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially after mild activity or exercise
- Frequents colds that cause symptoms to worsen
- Wheezing when breathing
The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. They may also ask about risk factors such as smoking. The doctor may suspect chronic bronchitis if you have an frequent cough with no clear cause. A physical exam will be done. A lung function test may be done. It will show if there is a problem moving air through the lungs.
Images of the lungs may be taken with:
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Treatment may help to improve symptoms. The best way to reduce symptoms is to stop smoking.
Treatment options may include one or more of the following:
Medicine may help to:
- Open the airways
- Relax the breathing passages
- Decrease swelling and mucus
The most common types include bronchodilators or steroids.
Oxygen therapy may be needed. It will increase the oxygen in the lungs and then in the blood. This therapy can ease breathing problems and improve energy. Oxygen may only be needed for activity. In later stages, it may be needed throughout the day.
Regular exercise helps the heart and body work better. This will lower the workload on the lungs. Exercise can also improve overall health and mood. Cardio exercises like walking and strength exercise are both helpful. Yoga may also be helpful because of breathing training.
Special exercises can also make chest muscles stronger. This can help to ease to breathing.
Education about possible irritants is helpful. Smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes can all make breathing worse. Most can be avoided or limited. There are also steps to decrease the impact it will have.
Chronic bronchitis increase the risk of problems with flu and pneumonia. Vaccinations can prevent these infections or decrease illness. Pneumonia and the flu vaccines are both recommended.
Special methods can ease shortness of breath. Some examples include:
- Pursed-lip breathing
- Controlled coughing technique
Long term health issues can be stressful. This can make symptoms worse and decrease quality of life. The impact of stress may be decreased with:
- COPD support groups
- Professional counseling
- Relaxation tools such as meditation or yoga
To help reduce the chance of chronic bronchitis:
- If you smoke, quit.
- Avoid being in smoky areas or others who smoke.
- Avoid air pollution or irritants as much as possible.
- Wear protective gear at work. Follow rules for working with or around irritants or toxins.
American Lung Association
The Lung Association
COPD. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557. Updated September 1, 2018. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Chronic bronchitis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/chronic-bronchitis.html. Updated June 2017. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Living with COPD. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/copd. Accessed October 15, 2018.
Patient Education: Teaching the Patient with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). EBSCO Nursing Reference Center website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/nursing/products/nursing-reference-center. Updated March 28, 2018. Accessed October 15, 2018.
- Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
- Review Date: 03/2018
- Update Date: 10/15/2018