Chronic bronchitis

What is chronic bronchitis? — Bronchitis is an irritation in the bronchi, the tubes that carry air in and out of the lungs. It causes a cough that brings up mucus (phlegm). In people with chronic bronchitis, this cough lasts for 3 months or longer for 2 or more years in a row.

Chronic bronchitis is 1 of the 2 main types of a serious lung disease called “COPD.” The other main form of COPD is called “emphysema.” COPD can make it hard to breathe. Both types of COPD are usually caused by smoking.

Why did I get chronic bronchitis? — The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking, which can damage the lungs forever. People can also get chronic bronchitis from breathing in toxic fumes or gases.

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis? — The symptoms include:

  • Having a cough on most days for at least 3 months, for 2 years in a row
  • Coughing or spitting up clear or white mucus
  • Feeling very tired
  • Feeling short of breath
  • Chest discomfort or tightness

Will I need tests? — Yes. Your doctor might do several tests, including:

  • A chest X-ray – This can show other conditions that might be causing your cough, such as pneumonia.
  • Spirometry – During this test, you take a deep breath and then blow out as fast and hard as you can into a tube. A machine connected to the tube measures how much air you can blow out of your lungs and how fast you can blow.

If the results of your spirometry are not normal, your doctor or nurse will give you medicine in an inhaler. Then he or she will test you again. This will help the doctor or nurse find out if your problem is caused by chronic bronchitis or another lung problem, such as asthma. People with asthma usually have normal results after they use an inhaler. People with chronic bronchitis usually do not.

Is there anything I can do on my own to feel better? — Yes. If you smoke, stop. This is the most important thing you can do for your chronic bronchitis. It does not matter how long you have smoked or how much you smoke. Quitting will slow your disease and help you feel better.

You should also get the flu shot every fall and the pneumonia vaccine at least once. Infections like the flu and pneumonia can hurt your lungs. It’s important to try to prevent them.

How is chronic bronchitis treated? — There are 3 main types of treatment for chronic bronchitis:

  • Medicines – There are a lot of prescription medicines to treat chronic bronchitis. Most people use inhalers that help open up their airways or that reduce swelling in the airways. Often people need more than 1 inhaler at a time. Sometimes, people need a medicine called prednisolone that comes in pills when their symptoms get worse than normal.
  • Oxygen – If the disease gets worse, some people need to use oxygen for breathing.
  • Pulmonary rehab – In pulmonary rehab, people learn things they can do to improve their symptoms. They learn exercises and ways to breathe that can help ease symptoms.

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