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Chronic Bronchitis

What is chronic bronchitis?

Bronchitis is swelling and irritation of the bronchi, which are the airways that connect the windpipe to the lungs. Chronic means the symptoms occur year after year for months at a time.

Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. COPD is one of the leading causes of death in the US.

How does it occur?

The main cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking. Smoke and sometimes other air pollutants can irritate the airways, causing them to swell and produce mucus. The swelling makes the inside of the airways become smaller. The airways become blocked by the mucus, making it hard for air to pass in and out of your lungs. This causes wheezing and trouble breathing. Chronic bronchitis slowly gets worse, gradually reducing your ability to breathe.

Frequent bacterial infections of the upper respiratory system can also cause chronic bronchitis. The upper respiratory system includes the nose, sinuses, voice box (larynx), and the trachea (windpipe).

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What are the symptoms?

The main symptom of chronic bronchitis is a deep cough that produces a lot of mucus or phlegm from the lungs on most or all days for months at a time. You may also have wheezing and breathlessness.

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How is it diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms, medical history and smoking habits. Your provider will examine you. You may have the following tests:

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How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider may prescribe:

You may have a follow-up visit with your healthcare provider to be sure any infections have been cleared up. Your provider may want you to schedule regular exams to check for possible complications.

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How long will the effects last?

Treatment will help control your symptoms. The symptoms may get better but then occur again more than once each year, especially during the winter. If your condition worsens, your symptoms will last longer and each recovery will take longer.

The disease will worsen if:

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How can I take care of myself?

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