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).
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Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the airways. The damage is caused by:
- Cigarette smoking
- Inhaling toxins or other irritants
- Genetic predisposition can make a person’s lungs more susceptible to damage from smoke or pollutants—one example of a genetic disorder is alpha-1-antitrypsin deficiency
Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis. The number of cigarettes smoked and years as a smoke increase the risk of disease. Frequent and long-term smoking also increases 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:
- Long-term exposure to chemicals, dust, and other substances that have been inhaled
- Long-term cigar or marijuana smoking
- Exposure to secondhand smoke
- Family members with COPD
- History of frequent childhood lung infections
- Long term asthma
Chronic bronchitis may cause:
- Increased mucus production
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially after mild activity or exercise
- Recurring respiratory infections that cause symptoms to worsen
- Wheezing when breathing
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. The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Tests may include the following:
- Breathing tests to check lung function
- Blood tests
Images of the lungs may be taken with:
- Chest x-ray
- CT scan of the chest
. 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:
To help reduce the chance of chronic bronchitis:
- Quit smoking. The doctor can help with finding a successful program.
- Avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
- Avoid exposure to air pollution or irritants.
- Wear protective gear if exposed to irritants or toxins at work.