What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is characterized by inflammation of the bronchial passage lining, and it can be acute or chronic. Acid reflux and conditions that weaken the immune system increase the risk of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is usually the result of a virus such as a cold, and it may be caused by a bacterial infection.

Chronic bronchitis is far more serious, and it is usually caused by smoking or some other lung irritant. It can result in pneumonia or respiratory failure in the elderly or the very young and those with COPD or a comprised immune system.


What are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

Acute and chronic bronchitis have the same general symptoms. The difference between the two is the cause, length of illness and the frequency of the condition.

Symptoms include

  • Excessive mucous
  • Coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Weakness
  • Chills and low-grade fever
  • Chest irritation

Bronchitis Causes

Cases of bronchitis can be classified into two separate subgroups known as acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis, and they each have their own various causes. With acute bronchitis, the underlying initiator is almost always a viral infection which is contracted when a person is exposed to an infected person through either direct contact or through exposure to the air when people cough. Respiratory syncytial virus, rhinovirus, and influenza are just a few of the viruses which can lead to viral bronchitis. A smaller number of the acute cases are bacterial and related to something like mycoplasma pneumoniae, bordetella pertussis in the air or pollution. Chronic bronchitis is usually caused from smoking cigarettes or other types of tobacco products. Chronic inhalation of air pollution is often seen in those with hazardous occupations and there is also a bacterial chronic variety of the illness as well.

How is Bronchitis Treated?

In most cases bronchitis is viral, but not always. Tests may be performed to check for a bacterial infection. Treatment depends on the symptoms.

Treatment includes

  • Fever-reducing medication such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Plenty of liquids, especially when a fever is present
  • Expectorant or cough suppressant
  • Inhalants to open the airways
  • Cool mist humidifier
  • Steam vaporizer
  • Antibiotics if the cause is found to be bacterial
  • Breathing exercises

Acute bronchitis usually resolves itself within three days to three weeks, and without medical care.

Chronic bronchitis suffers should stop smoking and avoid exposure to other lung irritants. Pneumonia vaccinations, annual flu shots, washing hands often and avoiding those with cold and influenza symptoms can also help to prevent bronchitis.

Bronchitis Prevention

There has been a variety of testing done on Haemophilus influenzae vaccine which is an oral whole cell nontypeable vaccine, but the conclusions are mixed on whether this actually does an effective job at preventing bronchitis. It is always a good idea to quit smoking as the prolonged exposure to this tobacco smoke can lead to bronchitis and myriad other health issues. Lung irritants should be avoided as much as possible so that things like smoke, dust, air pollution and vapors are not allowed to wreak havoc on the human body. If you know you will be in the vicinity of such irritants then it is important to wear the proper protective equipment such as industrial respirators; even just a bandana or scarf is better than nothing at filtering the air that is being taken in. It is best to avoid areas of the world with known air problems.

Last Reviewed:
September 13, 2016
Last Updated:
April 10, 2018