What is bronchitis?

When bacteria or viruses get inside your lungs, they can cause your airways (bronchi) to swell, resulting in a condition called bronchitis. Along with swelling, your airways may fill with a sticky fluid called mucus.

Symptoms of bronchitis

The swelling and mucus make it hard to breathe. Symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Coughing
  • Runny nose
  • Pain in back or chest
  • Sore throat
  • Chills
  • Fatigue

People who smoke or who are exposed to cigarette smoke may be at greater risk of bronchitis.

What is chronic bronchitis?

Some people may have bronchitis for a long time—up to eight weeks. They may get bronchitis several times a year. This is called chronic bronchitis, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD).

Chronic bronchitis is caused by long-term damage to the lungs and airways. People who are prone to lung infections, such as people with asthma, and people who smoke or around lots of air pollution and toxic gases are more likely to have chronic bronchitis.

If you smoke, the best way to treat chronic bronchitis is to quit smoking. Your doctor will help you quit smoking as well as help you manage symptoms so your bronchitis doesn't get in the way of your everyday activities. Other treatments can help control chronic bronchitis, including pneumonia vaccines, and medicines that are inhaled to relieve swelling in your airways and relax airways to keep them open.

Bronchitis treatment options

Most people have bronchitis for about two weeks. If bacteria caused the bronchitis, you may take antibiotics to fight the condition. If it's caused by a virus — which is more common — you can take medicines, such as inhalers, to relax and open up your airways until your body gets rid of the virus.

You should also drink plenty of fluids, avoid cigarette smoke and use a humidifier to keep moisture in the air.

In some cases, bronchitis can get worse and become pneumonia . If your bronchitis doesn't go away or if your symptoms become worse, you should see a doctor.


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