Chronic Bronchitis Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

by Stuart

An acute or chronic condition, bronchitis means inflammation of the bronchi; these are the largest of the tubes which extend from the divisions of the trachea (windpipe) and take air to the air sacs of the lungs. Inflammation of bronchial mucosa (the lining of the bronchi) can be initiated irritant vapors or chemicals as well as by invasion of viruses or bacteria. Acute bronchitis, a short-term inflammation, is common, and in most cases, clears within 10 days.


Coughing, the principal symptom of bronchitis, results from irritation of the mucosal lining. Malaise and fever are other initial sign of infection. Vague chest pains and the production of phlegm (sputum), which at times may contain pus or blood, often develop later. The discomfort may range from a scratchy type of pain caused by the inflammation to a racking muscular pain caused by the strain of repeated coughing. Breathlessness may also be patient.

Acute bronchitis is usually part of a general infection involving the upper respiratory tract. This includes the pharynx, larynx, nose and trachea. Occasionally infection later extends downwards to the lung tissue and bronchopneumonia occurs.

Viruses probably, the commonest infective agent, produce a dry cough with little or no sputum. In children and healthy adults this usually settles quickly. In those with long-standing lung diseases, the development of secondary bacterial infection occurs far more frequently. Often the symptoms of the upper respiratory tract may be settling a little when symptom of more severe infection, such as breathlessness and fatigue, become more pronounced. The sputum becomes much more profuse and is often yellow or green.

At this stage, cough suppression, which may have been helpful earlier, may be dangerous because of possible retention of excess infected sputum. Humidification of inhaled air, rest and antibiotics are usual treatments at this point. In those with other lung or heart diseases, the condition can become serious enough to require hospitalization.

The initial change in chronic bronchitis is related to alterations in the mucosal lining. Cilia are a hair-like projection that extends up this lining and wave in sequence to move a thin film of mucus up towards the throat where it is swallowed. This is an important defense mechanism to remove bacteria and small particles that have descended into the bronchi.

In chronic condition, cilia become shorter and fewer in numbers and they also function less effectively. Mucus producing cells increase in both size and number. The amount of mucus increases markedly and becomes much stickier.

Smaller bronchi tend to become blocked, producing breathlessness (particularly on exertion) because the expulsion of air becomes more difficult, but also reducing the drainage of the respiratory tract and therefore increasing the likelihood of infection. In later stages, the amount of muscle in the wall of the bronchi increases.

It can also be part of a general viral infection called viral bronchitis such as measles or chicken pox.


One of the main causes of chronic condition is thought to be smoking, but this condition does not, but the conditions thus occur in non smokers. As air pollution also aggravates the condition, city dwellers and those in dusty occupation such as coal mining are more severely affected. Childhood infections and hereditary factors may play small roles in the development of chronic bronchitis.


Although there is much individual variation, damage from the condition is progressive, and it is accordingly important for the patient to obtain a full understanding of the process of chronic bronchitis.

Cessation of smoking, prompt treatment of any episodes of acute bronchitis, and avoidance of inhaled irritants may help slow the deterioration. Loss of excess weight and increasing general fitness may reduce the severity of the symptoms. Occasionally long-term antibiotics to prevent infection and the use of oxygen at home may also be of benefit.

Emphysema and asthma are other forms of chronic respiratory obstruction and features of these diseases may also be present in people suffering from the condition.


Is Bronchitis Contagious,

Chronic Bronchitis, University of Virginia Health System

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