Chronic Bronchitis

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Overview

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.

Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking.

Acute bronchitis, also called a chest cold, usually improves within a week to 10 days without lasting effects, although the cough may linger for weeks.

However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Symptoms

At first, you may have no symptoms or only mild symptoms. As the disease gets worse, your symptoms usually become more severe. They can include:


Frequent coughing or a cough that produces a lot mucus

Wheezing

A whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe

Shortness of breath, especially with physical activity

Tightness in your chest

Some people with chronic bronchitis get frequent respiratory infections such as colds and the flu. In severe cases, chronic bronchitis can cause weight loss, weakness in your lower muscles, and swelling in your ankles, feet, or legs.

Causes

The most important cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution and your work environment may also play a role. This condition causes a cough that's often called smoker's cough. It also causes you to cough up mucus, wheeze, and have chest discomfort.

The cause of chronic bronchitis is usually long-term exposure to irritants that damage your lungs and airways. In the United States, cigarette smoke is the main cause. Pipe, cigar, and other types of tobacco smoke can also cause chronic bronchitis, especially if you inhale them.


Exposure to other inhaled irritants can contribute to chronic bronchitis. These include secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes or dusts from the environment or workplace.


Rarely, a genetic condition called alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency can play a role in causing chronic bronchitis.


Risk factors

The risk factors for chronic bronchitis include:


Smoking. This the main risk factor. Up to 75% of people who have chronic bronchitis smoke or used to smoke.

Long-term exposure to other lung irritants, such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, and chemical fumes and dusts from the environment or workplace.

Age. Most people who have chronic bronchitis are at least 40 years old when their symptoms begin.

Genetics. This includes alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, which is a genetic condition. Also, smokers who get chronic bronchitis are more likely to get it if they have a family history of COPD.


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Complications

The major complications of chronic bronchitis are:


difficulty breathing, sometimes severe,

respiratory failure,

pneumonia,

Enlargement and weakness of right heart ventricle of the heart caused by lung disease,

pneumothorax (collection of air or gas in lung causing lung collapse),

polycythemia (abnormally high concentration of red blood cells needed to carry oxygen),

chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (some NIH researchers consider chronic bronchitis a type of COPD),

emphysema,

chronic advancement of the disease, and

high mortality (death) rate (COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States).


Prevention

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.

smoking causes most cases of chronic bronchitis, the best way to prevent it is to not smoke. It's also important to try to avoid lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and dusts.