There’s no cure for chronic bronchitis, but treatment can help you manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Bronchitis occurs when your airways become inflamed, making it difficult for you to breathe.
Acute (short-term) bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, is usually due to a viral infection and typically goes away on its own. But chronic bronchitis is a more serious, long-term condition that develops over time.
Chronic bronchitis is part of a group of conditions known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes the condition emphysema. People with COPD most often have both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. These conditions make breathing hard and worsen over time.
Unlike acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis and COPD don’t go away and are not curable. Still, you can take steps to manage symptoms and slow disease progression.
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis usually begin after age 40. They’re often mild at first and get worse over time. Your symptoms may be worse at some times and better at others, but they will never disappear entirely.
- chest discomfort
- a squeaking, wheezing, or whistling sound while breathing
- shortness of breath
- coughing frequently and bringing up a lot of mucus
- a persistent cough that lasts 3 months, multiple times within 2 years
Chronic bronchitis isn’t curable, but it’s treatable. You can slow the progression and manage your symptoms with the right plan.
Treatment strategies include the following:
Changing your habits can have a significant effect. Your healthcare team may recommend the following:
A healthcare professional might give you medicines to help you breathe better. These may
- bronchodilators to help open your airways
- steroids to reduce lung inflammation
- antibiotics to treat infections
They may also recommend you receive vaccines to protect you against diseases such as the flu or COVID-19, as COPD increases your risk of severe illness and hospitalization.
If you find breathing very difficult, you may need extra oxygen. Oxygen therapy helps get more oxygen into your bloodstream. You can get extra oxygen through nose tubes, face masks, or other methods.
According to 2023 research, around 70% of people with COPD who had a lung transplant lived for at least 5 years after the operation.
You can live for many years after a COPD diagnosis. The earlier your diagnosis, the sooner you can begin treatment. Treatment can help you manage your symptoms and slow the progression of the disease.
Your outlook depends on many factors, including:
- the severity of the condition
- lifestyle factors
- adherence to treatment
Quitting smoking and using oxygen therapy (if needed) can greatly enhance your quality of life and longevity.
Acute vs. chronic bronchitis
|Acute bronchitis||Chronic bronchitis|
|comes on suddenly||creates a cough that lasts months at a time|
|lasts less than 3 weeks||is not curable|
|may lead to a cough that lingers after the infection goes away||may have symptoms that go away and come back|
|is caused by a virus or infection||is caused by inflammation|
|will go away on its own with time||doesn’t go away on its own|
|does not cause lasting breathing problems||requires lifestyle changes to manage|
may require other treatment
Here are some answers to questions you may have about chronic bronchitis.
Is chronic bronchitis contagious?
Chronic bronchitis is long lasting inflammation in your lungs. It’s not contagious, but if you have an infection, you could pass that on to others through coughing.
Can chronic bronchitis damage your lungs?
COPD can damage your lungs over time. It can make you prone to respiratory illnesses and lead to weight loss.
Can chronic bronchitis kill you?
COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis, is a leading cause of death. If you wait too long to treat it or continue to smoke with it, you may shorten your lifespan and reduce your quality of life.
Inflammation in your lungs’ airways causes chronic bronchitis. You can’t cure it. It’s different from acute bronchitis, which usually goes away after a couple of weeks.
Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, and coughing up mucus. Although there’s no cure, you can manage symptoms and slow disease progression. Getting an early diagnosis, quitting smoking, and managing your condition are key to living a longer, healthier life.