Bronchitis is a condition in which the airways in the lungs, called bronchial tubes, become inflamed and cause coughing, often with mucus. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic.

When you breathe in, air passes down your airways, called your bronchi and bronchioles, into the air sacs of your lungs. In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the brochioles becomes inflamed.This causes mucus to build up along the airways and makes the airways narrow (bronchoconstriction), which causes you to cough. Medical Animation Copyright © 2020 Nucleus Medical Media, All rights reserved.

Most people with Acute bronchitis recover after a few days or weeks. Viral infections, such as the cold or flu, are usually the cause of acute bronchitis. Occasionally, acute bronchitis can be caused by a bacterial infection.

chronic bronchitis is an ongoing cough that lasts for several months and comes back two or more years in a row. The cough is productive, meaning it brings up mucus. In chronic bronchitis, the lining of the airways is constantly inflamed. This causes the lining to swell and make more mucus, which can make it hard to breathe. Chronic bronchitis is often part of a serious condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Your risk for either type of bronchitis is higher if you smoke cigarettes or have asthma or allergies. Chronic bronchitis is most often caused by smoking cigarettes, but it can occur in non-smokers as well. Women who smoke may be more at risk than men. Those who are older, have been exposed to fumes or secondhand smoke, have a family history of lung disease, have a history of childhood respiratory diseases, or have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), are also at higher risk of getting chronic bronchitis.

The most common symptom of bronchitis is coughing associated with mucus production. Other symptoms include wheezing or shortness of breath, chest pain, or a low fever. To diagnose bronchitis, your doctor will do a physical exam and ask about your medical history and symptoms. The doctor may also order a blood test to look for signs of infection or a chest X-ray to see if your lungs and bronchial tubes look normal and rule out pneumonia.

Usually, acute bronchitis goes away on its own, without treatment. Sometimes over-the-counter medicines that loosen mucus or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) such as ibuprofen can help manage acute bronchitis. Taking a couple of teaspoons of honey or using a humidifier may also reduce the symptoms and help with comfort. Doctors typically prescribe antibiotics only if they find that you have a bacterial infection, which is more common in young children. To prevent acute bronchitis from recurring, your doctor may recommend that you get a seasonal flu vaccine, quit smoking, and avoid being around secondhand smoke.

The goal of treatment for chronic bronchitis is to help you breathe better and control your symptoms. Your doctor may recommend healthy lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking; taking medicines to help clear your airways or to prevent symptoms from getting worse; or, in some cases, getting oxygen therapy to help you breathe better. Pulmonary rehabilitation can teach you breathing techniques such as pursed-lip breathing and help you prevent symptoms from worsening.

Learn more about Acute Bronchitis and Chronic Bronchitis.

Participate in NHLBI Clinical Trials

We lead or sponsor many studies on bronchitis and airway diseases. See if you or someone you know is eligible to participate in our clinical trials.

Do you have COPD?

This study will be looking for genes that may play a role in the development of COPD by looking at the blood from patients who have COPD, as well as the blood from those patients’ family members. To participate in this study, you must be 52 years old or younger and must not be pregnant or have other serious lung diseases such as lung cancer. This study will be conducted in Boston, Massachusetts.

Do you have chronic bronchitis and COPD and want to improve treatment?

This study will be testing how well a medicine called ivacaftor that is used to treat cystic fibrosis works also to treat symptoms of chronic bronchitis. New research suggests chronic bronchitis may be due to a problem similar to cystic fibrosis. To participate in this study, you must be 40 to 80 years old, have a history of smoking, and have not been diagnosed with asthma or cystic fibrosis. This study will be conducted in Birmingham, Alabama.

More Information

NHLBI resources
- Bronchitis

Non-NHLBI resources
- Bronchitis