John Carew, MD, is board-certified in otolaryngology and is an adjunct assistant professor at New York University Medical Center.
Bronchitis is swelling and irritation of the walls of the bronchi, which are the tubes that carry air to your lungs. The main symptom of bronchitis is a persistent cough that may or may not produce mucus.
There are two types of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis develops suddenly and is typically caused by a viral respiratory infection, such as the common cold or flu. Chronic bronchitis is a progressive lung disease. It develops over time and is usually caused by smoking.
The treatment of bronchitis depends on the type. Acute bronchitis is treated with symptom-alleviating therapies, such as rest and drinking fluids. Chronic bronchitis is treated with drugs that reduce inflammation and open up the bronchi, smoking cessation, and pulmonary rehabilitation.
The answer depends on the type of bronchitis. Since acute bronchitis is caused by an infection (typically viral), it can be contagious. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is not contagious, as it is a progressive, long-term disease of the airways, commonly caused by smoking.
Acute bronchitis usually lasts for a week to 10 days—although, the cough can persist for up to three weeks, even after the infection causing it has resolved. The symptoms of chronic bronchitis last for at least three months and return multiple times over the course of at least two years.
Acute and chronic bronchitis are treated differently. Since acute bronchitis is usually from a viral infection, the goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Therapies often include resting, drinking fluids, and using a humidifier. Chronic bronchitis is managed with several different therapies, including medications that both decrease inflammation and open up the airways.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, like the common cold or flu. Less commonly, a bacterial infection is the culprit. Chronic bronchitis is caused by recurrent inflammation of the bronchi, most commonly as a result of smoking. Exposure to air pollution, dust, or other environmental or workplace irritants may also cause chronic bronchitis.
Bronchial tubes carry air from your trachea (windpipe) to your lungs. There are a number of different health conditions that affect the bronchi, including bronchitis, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
COPD is an umbrella term that encompasses two main types of progressive, inflammatory lung diseases: chronic bronchitis (inflammation of the bronchial tubes) and emphysema (destruction of the air sacs). Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of COPD.
These noninvasive tests are used to evaluate how well a person's lungs are working. Spirometry is a type of pulmonary function test that plays an important role in diagnosing chronic bronchitis. During spirometry, a patient takes a deep breath in and blows out as fast and as hard as they can into a tube that is hooked up to a machine.
Pulmonary rehabilitation is a COPD treatment that is designed to reduce symptoms and improve lung function, exercise tolerance, and quality of life. Most pulmonary rehabilitation programs are outpatient and run two to three times a week for six to eight weeks.
There are two types of respiratory infections—upper and lower. Upper respiratory infections affect the nose, sinuses, and/or throat. Lower respiratory infections affect the respiratory system below the throat, including the bronchi, bronchioles, and lungs. Common types of lower respiratory infections are pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as bronchiolitis in children.
Sputum, also called phlegm, is a thick, sticky substance released by cells in the lower airways of the respiratory tract. There are different types of sputum tests. A sputum culture is used to evaluate for the presence of bacteria or other germ. Sputum cytology is used to look for signs of tuberculosis or cancer cells.
American Lung Association. Chronic Bronchitis.
Cleveland Clinic. Bronchitis: Management and Treatment. Updated August 12, 2019.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). Reviewed August 30, 2019.
Cleveland Clinic. Bronchitis. Reviewed August 12, 2019.