Bronchitis is when the airways in your lungs, your bronchi, become inflamed. This irritation can cause severe coughing spells that bring up mucus, wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath. There are two main types, acute and chronic.
Unlike acute bronchitis, which usually develops from a respiratory infection such as a cold and goes away in a week or two, chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition that develops over time. Symptoms may get better or worse, but they will never completely go away. These extended periods of inflammation cause sticky mucus to build up in the airways, leading to long-term breathing difficulties.
Along with emphysema, chronic bronchitis is one of the lung diseases that comprise COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). There are a number of treatments available to help control symptoms and ease breathing problems.
Key Facts about Chronic Bronchitis
- Chronic bronchitis is included in the umbrella term COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Your doctor may refer to your disease as either chronic bronchitis or COPD.
- Cigarette smoking is a major cause of chronic bronchitis. Other factors that increase your risk of developing this disease include exposure to air pollution as well as dust or toxic gases in the workplace or environment. It may also occur more frequently in individuals who have a family history of bronchitis.
- To diagnose chronic bronchitis, your doctor will look for a productive cough (producing mucus) that lasts at least three months and happens multiple times over the course of at least two years. Tests used to diagnose chronic bronchitis include pulmonary function tests, chest X-rays or CT scans.
- Chronic bronchitis is not curable but there are a number of treatments that can help you manage your symptoms. These include bronchodilators that open your airways, steroids to reduce inflammation, oxygen therapy and pulmonary rehabilitation.