Bronchitis is swelling and irritation of the bronchi, which are the airways that connect the windpipe to the lungs. Chronic means the symptoms occur year after year for months at a time.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the US.
The main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. Even if you are not a smoker, you can get chronic bronchitis from spending a lot of time around others who smoke. Smoke and sometimes other air pollutants can irritate the airways, causing them to swell and produce mucus. The swelling makes the inside of the airways become smaller. The airways become blocked by the mucus, making it hard for air to pass in and out of your lungs. This causes wheezing and trouble breathing. Chronic bronchitis usually gets worse slowly over months or years, gradually reducing your ability to breathe.
Frequent bacterial infections of the upper respiratory system can also cause chronic bronchitis. The upper respiratory system includes the nose, sinuses, voice box (larynx), and the windpipe (trachea).
Your risk of getting chronic bronchitis may also be increased if:
The main symptom of chronic bronchitis is a deep cough that produces a lot of mucus or phlegm from the lungs on most or all days for months at a time. You may also have wheezing and feel short of breath.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history, work history, smoking habits, and exposure to cigarette smoke. Your provider will examine you. You may have the following tests:
Your healthcare provider may prescribe:
If you are a smoker, your provider will tell you how important it is for you to stop smoking. Your provider will talk about options for quitting, such as nicotine patches, medicines, and helpful Web sites.
If it is hard for you to cough up mucus, your healthcare provider may recommend one of the following methods to help clear your airways. These treatments may be done by a nurse or a respiratory therapist. Or a family member may learn how to do it.
Your provider may also recommend:
You may have a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider to be sure any infections have been cleared up. Your provider may want you to schedule regular checkups to see how you are doing and whether you need any treatment changes.
Treatment will help control your symptoms. The symptoms may get better but then come back several times each year, especially during the winter. If your condition gets worse, your symptoms will last longer and each recovery will take longer.
The disease usually worsens if: