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Chronic Bronchitis

  • Diana Kohnle
Publication Type:


Chronic Bronchitis

(Bronchitis, Chronic)


Bronchitis is swelling of the lining of the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often have a cough that brings up thick mucus. They may also have wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath.

Chronic bronchitis develops over time. A person may have had bronchitis that lasts for several months or years. The constant swelling in the airway causes more sticky mucus to be made. This makes it harder for air to move into and out of the lungs. The airflow can get worse over time.

Chronic Bronchitis.

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Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the airways. That damage can be caused by:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Breathing in toxins, pollution, chemical fumes or toxic gases
  • Having a lot of lung infections

Risk Factors

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 of age. Other things that may increase the risk of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Breathing in chemicals, dust, and other substances for a long time
  • Smoking cigars or marijuana for a long time
  • Being around secondhand smoke
  • Having family members with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Having a lot of lung infections as a child
  • Having asthma for a long time


Chronic bronchitis may cause:

  • Cough
  • More mucus
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially after mild activity or exercise
  • A cold that makes symptoms worse
  • Wheezing when breathing
  • Fatigue


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. They may also ask about smoking or where you have worked. The doctor may suspect chronic bronchitis if you cough often 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:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Pulmonary function tests such as spirometry or peak flow monitor


There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. The goal of treatment is to help ease symptoms. The best way to help symptoms is to stop smoking.

Other ways to treat the symptoms are:


To help reduce the chance of chronic bronchitis:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Avoid being in smoky areas or near 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.


Medicine may help:

  • Open the airways
  • Relax the breathing passages
  • Reduce swelling and mucus

The most common types are bronchodilators or steroids.





  • Chronic bronchitis. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/condition/https-familydoctor-org-condition-chronic-bronchitis.
  • COPD. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/condition/copd.
  • COPD: living with. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute website. Available at: https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/copd/living-with.
  • 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.


  • Nicole S. Meregian, PA
Last Updated:

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.