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Patient education: Chronic bronchitis (The Basics)

Patient education: Chronic bronchitis (The Basics)

What is chronic bronchitis? — Bronchitis is an irritation in the bronchi, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs (figure 1). It causes a cough that brings up mucus (phlegm). In people with chronic bronchitis, this cough lasts for 3 months or longer for 2 or more years in a row.

Chronic bronchitis is 1 of the 2 main types of a serious lung disease called "COPD." The other main type is called "emphysema." COPD can make it hard to breathe. Both types are usually caused by smoking.

What causes chronic bronchitis? — The most common cause is smoking, which can irritate and scar the bronchi. People can also get it from breathing in toxic fumes or gases.

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis? — The symptoms include:

Coughing up mucus on most days for at least 3 months, for 2 years in a row

Feeling very tired

Feeling short of breath

Chest discomfort or tightness

Will I need tests? — Yes. Your doctor might do several tests, including:

Chest X-ray – This can show other conditions that might be causing your cough, such as pneumonia.

Spirometry – You take a deep breath and then blow out as fast and hard as you can into a machine. The machine measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow.

If the results of your spirometry are not normal, you will inhale medicine to open your airways and then do the test again. This will help the doctor or nurse find out if your problem is caused by chronic bronchitis or another lung problem, such as asthma. People with asthma usually have normal results after they use an inhaler. People with chronic bronchitis usually do not.

How is chronic bronchitis treated? — There are 3 main types of treatment:

Medicines – There are many prescription medicines to treat chronic bronchitis. Most people use inhalers that help open up their airways or reduce swelling in their airways. Often, people need more than 1 inhaler at a time. Sometimes, people need a medicine called prednisone that comes in pills when their symptoms get worse than normal.

Oxygen – If the disease gets worse, some people need to use oxygen for breathing.

Pulmonary rehab – People learn things they can do to improve their symptoms. They learn exercises and ways to breathe that can help ease symptoms.

What can I do on my own? — To take care of yourself, you can:

Avoid smoking – Quitting smoking is the most important thing you can do for your health. This is true no matter how long you have smoked or how much you smoke. If you are having trouble quitting, your doctor or nurse can help.

Avoid triggers – If things like fumes, pollution, or dust make your breathing worse, try to avoid them.

Lower your risk of infection – Certain infections can be very hard on your lungs and can cause COPD symptoms to flare up. You can lower your risk by getting certain vaccines. These include vaccines to protect against the flu, pneumonia, and COVID-19. Also, wash your hands often and stay away from people who are sick.

Make healthy lifestyle changes – Eating a healthy diet can help improve your health. You can also improve your health by following your pulmonary rehab plan if you have one, or finding other ways to move your body.

When should I call the doctor? — Call for an ambulance (in the US and Canada, call 9-1-1) if:

You are having trouble breathing, even when you are resting.

You are coughing up blood.

You have signs of a heart attack, such as:

Severe chest pain, pressure, or discomfort with:

-Trouble breathing, sweating, upset stomach, or cold clammy skin

-Pain in your arms, back, or jaw

-Worse pain with activity like walking up stairs

Fast or irregular heartbeat

Feeling dizzy, faint, or weak

Call your regular doctor for advice if:

You have a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills.

You are feeling weak or more short of breath than usual when doing your normal activities.

You have new or worsening cough, wheezing, sputum, or shortness of breath.

More on this topic

Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (The Basics)
Patient education: Medicines for COPD (The Basics)
Patient education: Spirometry (The Basics)
Patient education: Asthma in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Cough in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use your dry powder inhaler (adults) (The Basics)
Patient education: How to use your metered dose inhaler (adults) (The Basics)
Patient education: Lowering the risk of spreading infection (The Basics)

Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) treatments (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Asthma treatment in adolescents and adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Chronic cough in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Quitting smoking (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Inhaler techniques in adults (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Jun 02, 2024.
Disclaimer: This generalized information is a limited summary of diagnosis, treatment, and/or medication information. It is not meant to be comprehensive and should be used as a tool to help the user understand and/or assess potential diagnostic and treatment options. It does NOT include all information about conditions, treatments, medications, side effects, or risks that may apply to a specific patient. It is not intended to be medical advice or a substitute for the medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment of a health care provider based on the health care provider's examination and assessment of a patient's specific and unique circumstances. Patients must speak with a health care provider for complete information about their health, medical questions, and treatment options, including any risks or benefits regarding use of medications. This information does not endorse any treatments or medications as safe, effective, or approved for treating a specific patient. UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates disclaim any warranty or liability relating to this information or the use thereof. The use of this information is governed by the Terms of Use, available at https://www.wolterskluwer.com/en/know/clinical-effectiveness-terms. 2024© UpToDate, Inc. and its affiliates and/or licensors. All rights reserved.
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