What is chronic bronchitis?
Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These are the airways called bronchi.
This inflammation causes too much mucus production and other changes. There are different
types of bronchitis. But the most common are acute and chronic.
Chronic bronchitis is long-term inflammation of the bronchi. It's common among smokers.
People with chronic bronchitis tend to get lung infections more easily. They also
have episodes of acute bronchitis, when symptoms are worse.
To be classified as chronic bronchitis:
You must have a cough and mucus most days for at least 3 months a year, for 2 years
in a row.
Other causes of symptoms, such as tuberculosis or other lung diseases, must be ruled
People with chronic bronchitis have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
This is a large group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis. These diseases
can block air flow in the lungs and cause breathing problems. The 2 most common conditions
of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
What causes chronic bronchitis?
Chronic bronchitis is not caused by a virus or bacteria. Most experts agree that the
main cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution and your work
environment may also play a role. This is especially true if you also smoke.
Bronchitis symptoms often happen with other lung diseases such as:
What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?
Below are the most common symptoms of chronic bronchitis. But each person may have
slightly different symptoms.
Symptoms may include:
People with chronic bronchitis often have a cough and make mucus for many years before
they have shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis may cause:
Other symptoms may include:
Bluish fingernails, lips, and skin because of lower oxygen levels
Wheezing and crackling sounds with breathing
The symptoms of chronic bronchitis may look like other lung conditions or health problems.
See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is chronic bronchitis diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will take a complete health history and do a physical exam.
Your provider may order the following tests:
Pulmonary function tests
These tests help to measure the lungs’ ability to move air in and out of your lungs.
The tests are often done with special machines that you breathe into. They may include:
Spirometry. This test uses a spirometer device to see how well your lungs are working. It's one
of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests. It may be used for any or all
To find out how well your lungs take in, hold, and move air
To keep watch on a lung disease
To see how well treatment is working
To find out how serious your lung disease is
To find out if your lung disease is restrictive or obstructive. Restrictive means
less air will get into your lungs. Obstructive means less air will get out of your
Peak flow monitor. This test measures the fastest speed you can blow air out of your lungs. Inflammation
and mucus in the large airways in the lungs narrow the airways. This slows the speed
of air leaving the lungs. It can be measured with a peak flow monitor. This measurement
is very important in telling how well your disease is being controlled.
Arterial blood gas
This blood test is used to check the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
It also measures the acidity of your blood.
An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. To
get this measurement, a small sensor is taped or clipped onto a finger or toe. When
the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless,
and the red light does not get hot.
This test makes pictures of your internal tissues, bones, and organs, including the
lungs. It helps find out if you have other lung conditions or diseases.
This imaging test uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to make images
of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the
bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.
You may have other tests, such as a blood test or sputum test to check eosinophil
levels. You may also have screening for a condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency
How is chronic bronchitis treated?
Treatment for chronic bronchitis is aimed at treating the causes and symptoms. It
Steps to quit smoking if you smoke. If you smoke, quit. Smoking is the main cause
of COPD. Quitting will help you be able to better manage your COPD. Don't use e-cigarettes
or vaping products either. Ask your healthcare provider about ways to help you quit
Ways to stay away from secondhand smoke and other lung irritants
Medicines to take by mouth (oral) to open airways and help clear away mucus
Inhaled medicines, such as bronchodilators and steroids. Always review and discuss
how to use each device correctly with your healthcare provider.
Oxygen from portable containers
Lung volume reduction or bullectomy surgery to take out damaged areas of the lung
A lung transplant
Increase humidity in the air and an assessment for long-term oxygen therapy
Ways to prevent lung infections. Ask your healthcare provider about getting a flu
shot and pneumococcal vaccine.
Pulmonary rehab to help you learn how to live with your breathing problems and stay
active. Community-based and home-based programs work as well as hospital-based programs
as long as they are held as often and are as intense. Standard home-based pulmonary
rehab programs help with shortness of breath in people with COPD. Traditional, supervised
pulmonary rehab is the best choice for people with COPD.
Self-management program for you and your family
Eating a healthy, balanced diet. This is important to staying as healthy as possible.
So is trying to stay at your ideal weight. Being overweight or underweight can affect
your health. Eat lots of fruits and vegetables every day. Also eat balanced portions
of whole grains, lean meats and fish, and low-fat dairy products.
During each doctor's appointment, your provider will check how well you:
Cope in your daily life. This may focus on supportive, palliative, or end-of-life
Correctly use your inhaler, nebulizer, oxygen equipment, and other medicines. It's
very important to use your inhaler or other devices correctly to best manage your
Cope with other health conditions you have, the medicines you take for them, and how
they affect managing your COPD.
Key points about chronic bronchitis
Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes (bronchi). There are several types
of bronchitis, but the most common are acute and chronic.
Chronic bronchitis is often part of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
This is a group of lung diseases that cause airflow blockage and breathing problems.
The most important cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution
and your work environment may also play a role. Stay away from both indoor and outdoor
pollution. Indoor pollution includes burning wood, smoke from home cooking, or heating
fuels. Outdoor pollution includes dusts, vapors, fumes, gases, and other chemicals.
This condition causes a cough that’s often called smoker’s cough. It also causes you
to cough up mucus, wheeze, and have chest discomfort. These may get worse over time
and lead to severe breathing problems.
Tests that help measure how well your lungs are working are used to diagnose chronic
bronchitis. Blood, breathing, and imaging tests will determine how severe the problem
is and watch it over time.
Your vitamin D, hemoglobin, and hematocrit levels may be monitored. You may also be
screened for a condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD).
The goal of treatment is to live more comfortably by controlling symptoms. A key part
of treatment is to quit smoking, including the use of e-cigarettes and vaping products.
Remember that cold weather can trigger flare-ups.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your healthcare
provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments,
or tests. Also write down any new instructions your healthcare provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help you. Also
know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that
Know how you can contact your healthcare provider if you have questions.