Bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchi (large and medium-sized airways) in the lungs that cause coughing.

Symptoms include coughing up sputum, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic.

Acute bronchitis usually has a cough that lasts around three weeks and is also known as a chest cold.

In more than 90% of cases, the cause is a viral infection. These viruses may be spread through the air when people cough or by direct contact.

A small number of cases are caused by a bacterial infection such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae or Bordetella pertussis.

Risk factors include exposure to tobacco smoke, dust, and other air pollution.

Treatment of acute bronchitis typically involves rest, acetaminophen and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help with the fever.

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough – one that produces sputum – that lasts for three months or more per year for at least two years.

Many people with chronic bronchitis also have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Tobacco smoking is the most common cause, with a number of other factors such as air pollution and genetics playing a smaller role.

Treatments include quitting smoking, vaccinations, rehabilitation, and often inhaled bronchodilators and steroids. Some people may benefit from long-term oxygen therapy.

Acute bronchitis is one of the most common diseases.

About 5% of adults are affected and about 6% of children have at least one episode a year.


Diagnosis is typically based on a person’s signs and symptoms.

The color of the sputum does not indicate if the infection is viral or bacterial. Determining the underlying organism is usually not required.

Other causes of similar symptoms include asthma, pneumonia, bronchiolitis, bronchiectasis, and COPD.

A chest X-ray may be useful to detect pneumonia.

Another common sign of bronchitis is a cough which lasts ten days to three weeks. If the cough lasts for longer than a month, it may become chronic bronchitis.

In addition, a fever may be present. Acute bronchitis is normally caused by a viral infection.

Typically, these infections are rhinovirus, parainfluenza, or influenza. No specific testing is normally needed in order to diagnose acute bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts for three months or more per year for at least two years.

When this occurs together with decreased airflow it is known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Many people with chronic bronchitis have COPD however, most people with COPD do not have chronic bronchitis.

Most cases of chronic bronchitis are caused by tobacco smoking.

Chronic bronchitis in young adults who smoke is associated with a greater chance of developing COPD.

In addition, chronic inhalation of air pollution, or irritating fumes or dust from hazardous exposures in occupations such as coal mining, grain handling, textile manufacturing, livestock farming, and metal molding may also be a risk factor for the development of chronic bronchitis.

Individuals over age 45 years of age, smokers, those that live or work in areas with high air pollution, and anybody with asthma all have a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis.

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