Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways known as the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. Acute bronchitis has a sudden onset, typically occurs following a respiratory infection, and resolves in about 2 weeks, though residual coughing may last a bit longer. Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that occurs when these swollen, inflamed airways produce excessive mucus, leading to fatigue, coughing, aches, and difficulty breathing in and out, affecting patients for months or even years.
Cigarette smoking or long-term exposure to dust, fumes, or chemical irritants may cause the condition. Lifestyle changes, including stopping smoking or removing the source of irritation, and using a humidifier or steam shower will help loosen mucus and relieve wheezing. Inhaled medicines that open the airway (bronchodilators), steroids (inhaled or in pill form) to reduce inflammation, and oxygen therapy may improve breathing and comfort.
Washing hands regularly, receiving recommended vaccinations, and avoiding people with colds or flu will help reduce the risk of bacterial and viral infections, which can worsen the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. Pulmonary rehabilitation may improve symptoms and quality of life by combining medical therapy with breathing strategies, nutritional counseling, and energy-conserving techniques.
The American Lung Association explains chronic bronchitis on its website.