Chronic Bronchitis

  • Medical Author:
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

  • Medical Editor: George Schiffman, MD, FCCP
    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    George Schiffman, MD, FCCP

    Dr. Schiffman received his B.S. degree with High Honors in biology from Hobart College in 1976. He then moved to Chicago where he studied biochemistry at the University of Illinois, Chicago Circle. He attended Rush Medical College where he received his M.D. degree in 1982 and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha Medical Honor Society. He completed his Internal Medicine internship and residency at the University of California, Irvine.

  • Medical Editor: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

Understanding COPD

Quick GuideBronchitis Symptoms and Treatments

Bronchitis Symptoms and Treatments

What are the causes of chronic bronchitis?

There can be many causes of chronic bronchitis, but the main cause is cigarette smoke. Statistics from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggest that about 49% of smokers develop chronic bronchitis and 24% develop emphysema/COPD.

Many other inhaled irritants (for example, smog, industrial pollutants, and solvents) can also result in chronic bronchitis.

Viral and bacterial infections that result in acute bronchitis may lead to chronic bronchitis if people have repeated bouts with infectious agents.

Also, underlying disease processes (for example, asthma, cystic fibrosis, immunodeficiency, congestive heart failure, familial genetic predisposition to bronchitis, and congenital or acquired dilation of the bronchioles, known as bronchiectasis) may cause chronic bronchitis to develop, but these are infrequent causes compared to cigarette smoking.

What are the risk factors for chronic bronchitis?

The major risk factor for individuals to develop chronic bronchitis is tobacco smoking and second-hand tobacco smoke exposure. However, there are others, such as repeated exposure to pollutants (especially airborne materials such as ammonia, sulfur dioxide, chlorine, bromine, hydrogen sulfide), dust, repeated bouts of acute bronchitis orpneumonia, and gastric reflux (by inhalation of gastric contents).

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

The major symptoms of chronic bronchitis are as follows:

  • Cough and sputum production are the most common symptoms. They usually last for at least 3 months and occur daily. The intensity of coughing and the amount and frequency of sputum production vary from patient to patient. Sputum may be clear, yellowish, greenish, or occasionally, blood-tinged. Since cigarette smoke is the most common cause for chronic bronchitis, it should not be surprising that the most common presentation is so called smoker's cough. This is characterized by a cough that tends to be worse upon arising and is often productive of discolored mucus in the early part of the day. As the day progresses, less mucus is produced.
  • Dyspnea (shortness of breath) gradually increases with the severity of the disease. Usually, people with chronic bronchitis get short of breath with activity and begin coughing; dyspnea at rest usually signals that COPD or emphysema has developed.
  • Wheezing (a coarse whistling sound produced when airways are partially obstructed) often occurs.

In addition, symptoms of fatigue, sore throat, muscle aches, nasal congestion, and headaches can accompany the major symptoms. Severe coughing may cause chest pain; cyanosis (bluish/grayish skin coloration) may develop in people with advanced COPD. Fever may indicate a secondary viral or bacterial lung infection. When symptoms worsen or become more frequent, this is often referred to as an exacerbation of chronic bronchitis. These exacerbations often require antibiotics, and may need steroid medication and an increase in respiratory inhaled medications.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/24/2016

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