How to Prevent Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

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Bronchitis is a condition where the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs, known as bronchi, become inflamed. The most prominent symptom of bronchitis is a cough.

There are two different types of bronchitis:

  • Acute: The worst symptoms of acute bronchitis clear up within days, although the cough can last for weeks.
  • Chronic: This form lasts much longer, often indefinitely. Seventy-five percent of people with chronic bronchitis are smokers or former smokers. Chronic bronchitis is more common in people over the age of 40. 

Although bronchitis is a common condition, there are steps that you can take to prevent both types. 

man with bronchitis

Moyo Studio / Getty Images

Bronchitis Symptoms

The symptoms of bronchitis are similar whether you have acute or chronic bronchitis. The most prominent symptom is a persistent cough.

Oftentimes, you’ll notice mucus when you cough. This mucus builds up in your bronchial tubes when they are irritated, and your coughing is an attempt to clear the mucus. 

Other symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Low-grade fever
  • Tightness in the chest

If you have chronic bronchitis, these symptoms might start mild and become worse with time.

Causes

Bronchitis is caused by inflammation in the bronchial tubes.

  • Acute bronchitis develops when a respiratory infection like the flu, the common cold, or COVID-19 settles in the upper respiratory tract, irritating the bronchial tubes. 
  • Chronic bronchitis has the same underlying mechanism, but the root cause is different. With chronic bronchitis, the tubes are irritated by environmental toxins like smoke, allergens, chemicals, or dust. With time, repeated exposure to these substances causes the tubes to become inflamed. 

Is Bronchitis Genetic?

There is also a genetic component to chronic bronchitis. The genetic condition known as an alpha-1 antitrypsin (AAT) deficiency is linked with increased risk for chronic bronchitis and other lung conditions.

Smokers are more likely to develop chronic bronchitis if someone else in their family has a lung condition. 

How to Prevent Bronchitis

Preventing bronchitis starts by avoiding situations that could cause your bronchial tubes to become inflamed. Since the inflammation has different causes in acute versus chronic bronchitis, the prevention of the two conditions will vary. 

Preventing Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis usually begins with a respiratory infection, so you should take steps to reduce your risk of catching a virus. To prevent acute bronchitis:

  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Keep hand sanitizer close by for when soap and water aren’t available.
  • Stay up to date with all vaccines, including your flu vaccine and pneumonia vaccine (if you are over 65 or at high risk).
  • Cover your cough and stay home when sick.
  • Avoid smoking or exposure to other irritants, which can make acute bronchitis worse.

If you find yourself sick, be sure to rest and drink plenty of fluids. This could help you get over the infection before it causes bronchitis. Unfortunately, since bronchitis is often caused by viral infections, antibiotics will not help treat or prevent it.

Preventing Chronic Bronchitis

The best thing you can do to prevent chronic bronchitis is to not smoke, or to quit smoking. Since 75% of cases of chronic bronchitis are associated with smoking, this will dramatically reduce your risk. 

In addition, you can do the following to prevent chronic bronchitis:

  • Avoid situations where you are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • Reduce your use of aerosol sprays, like deodorants and hair sprays, since the chemicals in these can irritate your airway.
  • Wear a mask when working in areas that are dusty or have strong fumes. Be sure to find a mask that is specific to the type of work that you’re doing. 

A Word From Verywell

Bronchitis is a very common condition. The best way to prevent acute bronchitis is to reduce your risk of getting the flu, the common cold, or other respiratory infections. Having a good hygiene routine, including frequently washing your hands, can help stop the spread of viral infections. 

In order to prevent chronic bronchitis, you should stop smoking and reduce your exposure to secondhand smoke or environmental toxins. Quitting can seem impossible, especially if you’ve been a smoker for a long time, but there are tons of resources available to help you quit for good and create a healthier future for yourself and your family. 

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  1. MedlinePlus. Acute bronchitis. Updated January 2, 2017.

  2. MedlinePlus. Chronic bronchitis. Updated January 3, 2017.  

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Preventing and treating bronchitis