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Bronchitis (Chronic)

Chronic Bronchitis Overview

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Bronchitis is an inflammation of the air passages within the lungs. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is defined as inflammation of the air passages that comes on quickly and resolves within two to three weeks. Bronchitis is considered chronic when a cough with mucus persists for most days of the month, for at least three months, and at least two years in a row. Bronchitis occurs when the trachea (windpipe) and the large and small bronchi (airways) within the lungs become inflamed because of infection or irritation from other causes. Chronic bronchitis and emphysema are forms of a condition characterized by progressive lung disease termed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

  • The thin mucous lining of these airways can become irritated and swollen.
  • The cells that make up this lining may leak fluids in response to the inflammation.
  • Coughing is a reflex that works to clear secretions from the lungs. Often the discomfort of a severe cough leads a person to seek medical treatment.
  • Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
    • Persistent cough that may produce mucous
    • Wheezing
    • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Chronic bronchitis is usually the result of repeated damage to the lungs, such as occurs with smoking or inhaling workplace irritants.
  • Asthmatic bronchitis occurs when asthma and bronchitis coexist. Asthma is a chronic inflammatory airway condition that leads to tightening of the muscles around the airways with bronchial swelling, both of which cause the airways to narrow. The combination of inflammation of the inner lining of the airways and mucus production can lead to severe wheezing and shortness of breath.

Picture of the lung, bronchi, and airways of the lung
Picture of the lung, bronchi, and airways of the lung

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/15/2014
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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Bronchitis »

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or bronchi.

Read More on Medscape Reference »


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