Chronic bronchitis is a long-term disease of the lungs. It is a problem with the airways of the lungs. Injury or irritation causes these airways to swell and develop extra mucus. This makes it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs. It will make breathing difficult.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the airways. The damage is caused by:
Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis. The number of cigarettes smoked and years as a smoker increase the risk of disease. Frequent and long-term smoking also increase the chance of severe chronic bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is more common in people over 40 years old. Other factors that may increase the chance of chronic bronchitis include:
Chronic bronchitis may cause:
To diagnose chronic bronchitis, symptoms of productive cough must have been present for 3 or more months in at least 2 consecutive years, and not have been caused by another condition. You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
Images of the lungs may be taken with:
There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. There are treatments that can reduce symptoms and improve lung function. The best way to reduce symptoms is to stop smoking.
Treatment options may include one or more of the following:
Medications may include bronchodilators or steroids. They may help manage chronic bronchitis by:
Some medication may be taken as pills or liquids. Others are inhaled medication that is delivered directly to the lungs.
Antibiotics are rarely prescribed to treat chronic bronchitis. They may be needed to treat a lung infection that has developed because of the chronic bronchitis.
Oxygen therapy may be helpful if blood oxygen levels are too low. It can relieve breathing problems and improve energy. Oxygen may only be needed for specific activities or it may be given throughout the day.
Special exercises can strengthen chest muscles. This can make it easier to breathe.
Regular physical activity can reduce the workload on the lungs by building endurance. Physical activity is also associated with improved quality of life. Follow the doctor's recommendations for activity levels and restrictions.
Special methods of breathing can help bring more air into the lungs. They can also help force trapped air out of the lungs. Effective coughing techniques can also help clear mucus from the lungs. Ask the doctor if these techniques will be helpful. Some examples include:
Symptoms can be managed by:
Bronchitis. The Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lung.ca/lung-health/lung-disease/bronchitis. Updated November 18, 2015. Accessed March 14, 2018.
COPD. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115557/COPD. Updated February 12, 2018. Accessed March 14, 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 March 14, 2018.
Explore bronchitis. National Heart Lung Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/brnchi. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Explore COPD. National Heart Lung Blood Institute website. Available at: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/copd. Accessed March 14, 2018.
Halbert RJ, Natoli JL, Gano A, et al. Global burden of COPD: Systematic review and meta- analysis. Eur Respir J. 2006;28(3):523-532.
Lopez AD, Shibuya K, Rao C, et al. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Current burden and future projections. Eur Respir J. 2006;27(3):397-412.
Last reviewed March 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.