What is Bronchitis?

The windpipe, trachea, branches off and leads to both sides of lungs. These two branches/airways of lungs are known as Bronchi. Bronchi further lead to smaller airways inside the lungs, known as bronchioles.

When the airways of lungs are infected, it causes irritation and inflammation. As a response, bronchi produces mucus to trap any foreign particles such as dust to prevent further irritation. The excess mucus is pushed out of lungs by coughing.

This condition where bronchi is infected and inflammated and excess mucus is produced, is know as Bronchitis.

Types of Bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis, namely:

  • Acute Bronchitis:
    • Temporary inflammation of the bronchi, causing mucus production and cough
    • lasts up to three weeks
    • can affect people of all ages but mostly children under 5 years of age
    • more common in winter and often develops after a common cold, sore throat or flu infection
    • Chronic Bronchitis:
      • Persistent productive cough that lasts for three months of a year
      • Recurrent for at least two years in a row
      • Is one among the many lung conditions, which are collectively classified as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease(COPD) and mostly affects adults over 40 years of age
      • Smoke and chemicals emitted from cigaratte increases the risk of chronic bronchitis and COPD

If you smoke, quit smoking immediately if you are diagnosed with bronchitis. Smoking worsens bronchitis and increases risk of developing emphysema, another lung disease where air sacs in lungs get damaged, and one experience acute shortness of breath.


  • Key symptom: Hacking cough, with clear/yellow-grey /greenish mucus (phlegm)
  • Other symptoms:  Like a common cold or sinutis, you may experience:
    • sore throat
    • headache
    • runny or blocked nose
    • aches/pains
    • wheezing and/or breathlessness and/or chest tightening (more common in chronic bronchitis)
    • low fever and chills
    • tiredness

Complications of Bronchitis

Infection may spread from bronchi to bronchioles, causing the tiny air sacs to fill up with fluid. This is known as Pneumonia and is the most common complication of bronchitis. Around 1 in every 20 cases of bronchitis end up having pneumonia.

People, more susceptible to pneumonia:

  • Are elderly
  • Smoke
  • Have a pre-existing heart/liver/kidney disease
  • Have weak immune system


Most common cases of Bronchitis are caused by the common cold or flu viruses. However both viruses and bacteriae may cause bronchitis. Bronchitis is spread by multiple causes:

  • An infected person could spread the disease when he/she coughs or sneezes. The survival period of bronchitis virus is 24 hours till it enters another host.
  • Breathing in irritant substances such as tobacco smoke and chemicals, smog, and chemicals in household products may trigger Bronchitis. However, smoking and passive smoking are the two major risk factors of bronchitis.
  • Occupational Exposure
    The risk of bronchitis and other COPD is higher, if you are constantly exposed to one or many of the materials listed below:
    • Grain dust
    • Textiles(fabric fibers)
    • Ammonia
    • Strong acids
    • Chlorine

Occupational bronchitis usually eases on its own once you avoid the respective exposure.

When to Consult Doctor?

Consult your doctor immediately, if you experience one or more of the symptoms listed below:

  • Severe cough lasting longer than three weeks
  • A constant fever of 380C or above, for more than 3 consecitve days
  • mucus with blood streaks
  • A pre-existing heart or lung condition, such as asthma, heart failure and emphysema
  • Rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pain
  • Feeling drowsy or confused
  • Repeatedly infected with bronchitis in the past


Acute bronchitis will clearup within few weeks by itself. It is easily treatable at home with:

  • Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs(NSAIDS)
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Good rest

There’s no cure for chronic bronchitis. Certain lifestyle changes help ease symptoms, such as:

  • Following a healthy diet to boost immune system and prevent lung infections
  • Exercising regularly and moderately to maintain a healthy weight and ease breathing
  • Avoiding smoking and smoky environments

There are several medications to relieve symptoms.

Cough medicine 

to bring up mucus and remove irritants from the lungs

Bronchodilators and steroids 

To open up the airways (inhaler, tablets)

Mucolytic medicines

To thin the mucus in lungs and make it easier to cough

Anti-inflammatory medicines & glucocorticoid steroids

To help decrease chronic inflammation that may cause tissue damage

Oxygen therapy 

To improve oxygen intake when breathing is difficult

Pulmonary rehabilitation program with a Respiratory Therapist

To help improve breathing


Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial bronchitis. (They aren’t routinely prescribed as viral bronchitis are the most common type of bronchitis and antibiotics have no effect on viruses)

Your doctor will only prescribe antibiotics if you have an increased risk of developing complications, such as pneumonia.

Antibiotics may be recommended for:

  • Patients who may develop complications such as pneumonia
  • Premature babies
  • Elderly people who are over 80 years of age
  • Paients with a pre-existing condition of heart/lung/kidney/liver disease
  • Patients with a weaker immune system
  • Patients with cystic fibrosis


The above article serves only as reference. Kindly refer to your primary care provider for complete consultation and treatment.

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