Bronchitis Facts and Statistics: What You Need to Know

Bronchitis is a highly preventable condition that can be acute or chronic. It is triggered by viruses, bacteria, and exposure to environmental toxins such as air pollution and the chemicals in tobacco smoke. Smoking is the major risk factor for chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis (often called a chest cold) is usually temporary, but chronic bronchitis is a progressive condition that greatly affects your quality of life, impacting your ability to breathe.

This article will cover what you should know about acute and chronic bronchitis, including how common these conditions are, who is more likely to be affected, how it affects mortality, and early detection. 

Person with graying hair coughing

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How Common Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is one of the most common reasons why U.S. adults are admitted to the hospital. It is estimated that 1 in 20 U.S. adults experience acute bronchitis every year, and about 10 million people or 3% of the population are living with chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis most commonly affects young children, while chronic bronchitis is most prevalent in people aged 44 to 65.

Declining smoking rates have led to reduced chronic bronchitis rates. One study of nearly 48,000 people found that chronic bronchitis rates declined in adults of any sex, ages 25 to 64. Similarly, increasing vaccination rates have led to lower acute bronchitis rates. 

Bronchitis by Race and Ethnicity

According to the American Lung Association, chronic bronchitis rates in 2018 were highest in White populations and lowest in Latinx populations, 4.1% compared to 2.4%. This means White populations were 1.5 times more likely to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis than Latinx populations.

The reasons for this are unknown, but a complex set of social and environmental factors are likely at play. Even more, of the U.S. cases of reported chronic bronchitis, White populations made up about 7 in 10 cases, followed by Black populations that made up 1 in 10 cases. 

Bronchitis by Age & Gender


According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the American Lung Association, females are more likely than males to be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, but the reasons why remain a mystery. In 2018, females were twice as likely as males to have chronic bronchitis.

(Note that Verywell Health prefers to use inclusive terminology, but when citing research or statistics, terms from the cited sources will be used. People assigned female at birth are often termed women or females, while those assigned male at birth are often termed men or males.)


Young children and older adults are at highest risk of developing bronchitis. Acute bronchitis incidence is highest among young children, especially those under 5 years old, before they have completed their vaccination schedule. During this time viruses such as the common cold may trigger acute bronchitis.

Adults over age 40 are at greater risk of developing chronic bronchitis due to smoking or long-term exposure to lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, air pollution, or workplace chemicals.

Chronic bronchitis can affect you at any age, but data shows adults over 65 are particularly at high risk. Adults 44 to 65 are at the next highest risk.

People diagnosed with chronic bronchitis under age 50 have been of particular interest to researchers. The data shows that chronic bronchitis before 50 is associated with a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) later in life and higher rates of all-cause mortality.

 Causes of Bronchitis and Risk Factors

Bronchitis is caused by inflammation of the walls of the bronchi, which are the air passages in the lungs. Various irritants cause that inflammation.

The causes of acute bronchitis include:

  • Viruses such as influenza and the common cold (most typical cause)
  • Exposure to a lung irritant such as smoke, dust, or chemical fumes
  • Infection by bacteria or fungi (less common)
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), in which stomach acid can irritate the airways
  • Respiratory allergies (such as to pollen or dust)

The causes of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Tobacco smoke (about 75% of chronic bronchitis cases are smoking-related)
  • Long-term exposure to lung irritants such as air pollution, secondhand smoke, fumes,(particularly in the workplace), and dust
  • The genetic lung condition alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

The following groups are at high risk for bronchitis:

  • Current or former smoker
  • People with a diagnosis of asthma or gastrointestinal reflux disease
  • Children under age 5 (acute bronchitis) and adults over 65 (chronic bronchitis)
  • People with a family history of lung disease (including alpha-1 antitrypsin disease)

What Are the Mortality Rates for Bronchitis?

Symptoms of acute bronchitis are usually temporary and go away on their own without the need for medication. Acute bronchitis is most commonly caused by viruses. Therefore, antibiotics are not effective in treating it.

Young children are at the highest risk of acute bronchitis. Although symptoms of acute bronchitis may be nerve-racking for parents and uncomfortable for children, death from acute bronchitis is extremely rare. It can develop into pneumonia (lung inflammation and/or infection).

Chronic bronchitis is potentially life-threatening if left untreated. It is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. In 2020, 457 people in the United States were reported to have died from chronic or unspecified bronchitis.

Smoking is often associated with chronic bronchitis, and it increases the risk of developing lung cancer and cardiovascular disease. Some studies of chronic bronchitis have found that it increased mortality from any cause.

The individual prognosis for chronic bronchitis will depend on how affected the person is by the condition, any other medical conditions present, age, and other factors.

Screening and Early Detection

In people without symptoms, screening for COPD (which includes chronic bronchitis) is not recommended. If you have symptoms, see a healthcare provider to be assessed for the condition. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include frequent coughing, productive cough (produces mucus), and shortness of breath.

Acute bronchitis will usually clear up without treatment in seven to 10 days. But see a healthcare provider if you have a fever, bloody mucus when you cough, trouble breathing, or wheezing or coughing for longer than two weeks.

There is no cure for chronic bronchitis. Early detection of chronic bronchitis and lifestyle modifications—most notably quitting smoking— most notably quitting smoking, are essential to improving your quality of life and overall survival.

Avoiding lung irritants, getting vaccinated (including a yearly flu shot), and washing your hands will also decrease your acute bronchitis risk. People with chronic bronchitis are more prone to these infections, so these measures are needed.

For children, people over 65, and those at heightened risk for bacterial pneumonia, a pneumococcus vaccine can help prevent this complication of acute or chronic bronchitis. For many current and former smokers age 50 to 80, lung cancer screening is recommended.


Bronchitis may be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is a common problem usually caused by colds or the flu. It normally clears up in a little over a week. Chronic (long-term) bronchitis is often associated with smoking and affects 10 million people in the United States. It causes ongoing breathing problems.

13 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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By Shamard Charles, MD, MPH
Shamard Charles, MD, MPH is a public health physician and journalist. He has held positions with major news networks like NBC reporting on health policy, public health initiatives, diversity in medicine, and new developments in health care research and medical treatments.