Chronic Bronchitis



Chronic bronchitis is caused by damage to the airways. That damage can be caused by:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Breathing in toxins, pollution, chemical fumes or toxic gases
  • Having a lot of lung infections

Risk Factors

Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for chronic bronchitis. The higher the number of total cigarettes smoked, the higher the risk of disease.

Chronic bronchitis is more common in people over 40 years of age. Other things that may increase the risk of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Breathing in chemicals, dust, and other substances for a long time
  • Smoking cigars or marijuana for a long time
  • Being around secondhand smoke
  • Having family members with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Having a lot of lung infections as a child
  • Having asthma for a long time



Chronic bronchitis may cause:

  • Cough
  • More mucus
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, especially after mild activity or exercise
  • A cold that makes symptoms worse
  • Wheezing when breathing
  • Fatigue


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. They may also ask about smoking or where you have worked. The doctor may suspect chronic bronchitis if you cough often with no clear cause. A physical exam will be done. A lung function test may be done. It will show if there is a problem moving air through the lungs.

Images of the lungs may be taken with:

  • X-ray
  • CT scan
  • Pulmonary function tests such as spirometry or peak flow monitor



There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. The goal of treatment is to help ease symptoms. The best way to help symptoms is to stop smoking.

Other ways to treat the symptoms are:


Medicine may help:

  • Open the airways
  • Relax the breathing passages
  • Reduce swelling and mucus

The most common types are bronchodilators or steroids.


Oxygen therapy may be needed. It will increase the oxygen in the lungs and then in the blood. This can ease breathing problems and give a person more energy. Oxygen may only be needed for activity. Over time it may be needed during the day.


Regular exercise helps the heart and body work better. This will make things easier for the lungs. Exercise can also help overall health and mood. Walking and strength exercises are both helpful. Yoga may also be helpful. It helps teach ways to breathe.

Special exercises can also make chest muscles stronger. This can help ease breathing.

Complication Prevention

Learning about things that make chronic bronchitis worse may help. Smoke, dust, smog, extreme heat or cold, and high altitudes can all make breathing worse. Some of those things can be avoided or limited.

Chronic bronchitis can raise the risk of problems with flu and pneumonia. Vaccinations can prevent these infections or make the illnesses less severe. Pneumonia and the flu vaccines are both recommended.

Special methods can ease shortness of breath. Some examples include:

  • Pursed-lip breathing
  • Controlled coughing

Long term health issues can be stressful. This can make symptoms worse. Stress may be managed with:

  • COPD support groups
  • Professional counseling
  • Relaxation tools such as meditation or yoga


To help reduce the chance of chronic bronchitis:

  • If you smoke, quit.
  • Avoid being in smoky areas or near others who smoke.
  • Avoid air pollution or irritants as much as possible.
  • Wear protective gear at work. Follow rules for working with or around irritants or toxins.

This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.

Edits to original content made by Denver Health.