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Chronic bronchitis


Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the main airways in the lungs that continues for a long period or keeps coming back.

Alternative Names

Bronchitis - chronic


Cigarette smoking is the main cause of chronic bronchitis. The more a person smokes, the more likely it becomes that the person will get bronchitis and that the bronchitis will be severe.

Secondhand smoke may also cause chronic bronchitis. Air pollution, infection, and allergies make chronic bronchitis worse.

Chronic bronchitis is one form of chronic obstructive pulmonary (lung) disease. Chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma as a group are a leading cause of death in the United States.


Exams and Tests

To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, the cough and excessive mucus production must have occurred for 3 months or more in at least 2 consecutive years and not be due to any other disease or condition.

Tests to diagnose chronic bronchitis include:


There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. The goal of treatment is to relieve symptoms and prevent complications. It is crucial to quit smoking to prevent chronic bronchitis from getting worse. Any other respiratory irritants should be avoided.

Inhaled medications that dilate (widen) the airways and decrease inflammation may help reduce symptoms such as wheezing.

Antibiotics may be prescribed for infections as needed.

Corticosteroids may occasionally be used during flare-ups of wheezing or in people with severe bronchitis that does not respond to other treatments.

Physical exercise programs, breathing exercises, and patient education programs are all part of the overall treatment plan. Oxygen therapy may be needed in severe cases. In very severe cases, a lung transplant may be recommended.

Support Groups

For organizations that provide support and additional information, see lung disease resources.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Mild or moderate cases of chronic bronchitis may often be controlled well with medicine and pulmonary rehabilitation. Advanced chronic bronchitis is more difficult to treat.

Early diagnosis and treatment and stopping smoking significantly improve the odds of a good outcome.

Possible Complications

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your health care provider if respiratory infection or unexplained symptoms develop, or you are short of breath, wheezing, or coughing up blood.


Early recognition and treatment may prevent the progression of the disease in people who also stop smoking.

Review Date: 8/7/2006
Reviewed By: David A. Kaufman, M.D., Assistant Professor, Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care & Sleep Medicine, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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