Chronic Bronchitis

What is Chronic Bronchitis?

The bronchi are airways connected to the windpipe (trachea) with sacs of the lung (alveoli) where oxygen is consumed by the blood. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become inflamed causing excessive mucous production and swelling of the bronchial walls. Many people suffer from a brief attack of acute bronchitis when they have a fever or a cold, but the term applied when this coughing continues for months and returns every year is called chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis generally lasts slightly longer each time.

Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms

For chronic bronchitis and acute bronchitis signs and symptoms may include cough, production of mucus in a clear or white color, or a yellowish gray or green color, shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, slight fever and chills, chest discomfort.

You can develop chronic bronchitis without first developing acute bronchitis. Many smoker have to clear their throats every morning when they get up. If it continues for more than three months, it may be chronic bronchitis.

If you have chronic bronchitis, long-term inflammation leads to scarring of the bronchial tubes creating excess mucus. Over time, the bronchial tube lining thickens and your airways become scarred. Signs of chronic bronchitis may also include a cough that’s worse in the mornings or damp weather, or frequent respiratory infections, such as a cold or flu, with a worsening productive cough. With chronic bronchitis, you are likely to have periods where your symptoms worsen. You may have superimposed acute bronchitis, either viral bacterial, in addition to chronic bronchitis.

What Causes Chronic Bronchitis?

Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis (chronic bronchitis rarely occurs in a non-smoker). Environmental pollution can also contribute to the development of bronchitis. Some smokers are resistant to the development of chronic bronchitis, but as yet there is no way of predicting which smokers will not develop chronic bronchitis. The decreased incidence of chronic bronchitis among women probably reflects the difference in smoking habits between the sexes. As these differences have diminished we are seeing an increasing incidence of chronic bronchitis in women.

How is Chronic Bronchitis treated?

The best treatment for chronic bronchitis is prevention. This means to stop smoking if you smoke, or do not start if you don’t smoke. Once chronic bronchitis is developed, you cannot cure the illness by quitting smoking. The cough of chronic bronchitis will go away within weeks of stopping smoking. But obstruction to the air flow caused by swelling of the walls of the bronchi continues, although medicines are available to dilate the bronchi and can stop the breathlessness. It is important to understand that patients with chronic bronchitis who continue to smoke will deteriorate rapidly. Smoking cessation will stop the rapid deterioration and there might be slight improvement in their ability to live normally.

Chronic Bronchitis Medication


The successful approach to manage bronchitis depends on using anti-inflammatory medications with bronchodilators as needed for immediate and occasional relief of symptoms.

  1. Anti-Inflammatory – Anti-inflammatories are used to treat the inflammation that is present in this condition.
  2. Bronchodilators – Bronchodilators are used to relieve the bronchoconstriction when an asthmatic component is present.

The successful approach to management, both in and out of hospital settings, is dependent upon the use of anti-inflammatory treatments with bronchodilators being prescribed for immediate and occasional relief of symptoms.

Anti-inflammatory medications also reduce swelling, and mucous. The prevent symptoms like coughing, wheezing, and breathlessness. These are to be taken on a regular basis and will take some time to work (hours or weeks). Talk to your doctor about your anti-inflammatory medication options for chronic bronchitis.

Types of Anti-Inflammatory Drugs

There are steroidal and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. The most common ones include:

  • beclomethasone (Beclovent©, Vanceril©, Becloforte©)
  • budesonide (Pulmicort©)
  • flunisolide (Bronalide©)
  • fluticasone (Flovent©)

Corticosteroid Inhalers for Chronic Bronchritis

These work by reducing and preventing airway inflammation, swelling and mucus.

Side Effects of Corticosteroid Inhalers

There are very few side effects at low dose, however side effects in general are usually restricted to the throat and include hoarseness and sore throat, and thrush or yeast infection. This can be prevented by rinsing your mouth out and gargling using a holding chamber.

Corticosteroid Tablets for Chronic Bronchitis

Corticosteroid tablets or Prednisone©:

  • used when inflammation becomes severe
  • reduce inflammation, swelling & mucus, and help bronchodilators work better
  • start to work within a few hours, but may take several days to have a full effect
  • use for short periods of time to get the inflammation under control

If used long term, there are many side effects of corticosteroid tablets such as water retention, puffy face, increased appetite, weight gain, and stomach irritation.

Many physicians prescribe antibiotics for acute chest infections which may shorten their duration and help prevent pneumonia. Annual vaccinations against influenza and a once only vaccination against bacterial pneumococcal pneumonia may help prevent the pulmonary complication of infections in chronic bronchitis. If you suffer from chronic bronchitis, try to avoid excessive dust and fumes although under normal circumstances, the contribution of atmospheric pollution to chronic bronchitis is extremely insignificant. Regular exercise is even more important for patients suffering from chronic bronchitis than for healthy individuals. Exercise does not improve the ability of the lungs to take up oxygen, but the effects of physical fitness on the cardiovascular system will compensate somewhat for the impaired lung function. The result of physical fitness in the patient suffering from chronic bronchitis is a lessening in breathlessness on exercise.

Chronic bronchitis is a preventable disease being rare in a non-smoker. It is never too late to stop smoking. A patient with chronic bronchitis can be treated with better results in the early stages of the disease.