What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or bronchi, that bring air into the lungs. Inflammation is a chemical reaction in the body that produces redness, swelling, and pain.

Bronchitis can be caused by:

  • Viruses
  • Bacteria
  • Smoking
  • Breathing in certain kinds of irritating chemicals

When the cells lining the bronchi are irritated, the tiny hairs (cilia) that normally trap and eliminate things from the outside stop working. Formation of material associated with irritation (inflammation) also increases; causing the passages to become clogged.

There is currently no cure for chronic bronchitis. Most treatment is focused on making the symptoms less severe and trying to prevent further damage.

Types Of Bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis usually lasts only a few days. It is often caused by a viral infection and may begin after you develop a cold or sore throat. It usually produces no long-lasting, harmful effects.
  • Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed when a person has too much phlegm in the airways, which leads to a persistent, productive cough. An individual is considered to have chronic bronchitis if cough and sputum (matter that is coughed up from the lungs) are present on most days for a minimum of three months for at least two successive years, or for six months during one year.

Chronic bronchitis is often neglected until it is in an advanced state, because people mistakenly believe that the disease is notserious. But prompt medical attention will reduce the risk of damage to the lungs.

Facts About Bronchitis

  • According to estimates from the Centers for Disease Control, about 9.9 million people in the United States — 4.3 percent of the population — were living with chronic bronchitis in 2011.
  • An estimated 85% to 90% of chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) cases are caused by smoking.
  • Most people don’t realize they have chronic bronchitis until they’re 40 or older.
  • Men are more likely to get chronic bronchitis than women. About two out of three of men and one out of four women have emphysema at death.
  • Children ages 5 and under are most likely to get acute bronchitis.


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