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.

Possible symptoms include:

  • 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
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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:

Lifestyle changes

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 include:

  • 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.


Pulmonary rehabilitation is a program to help you learn better lifestyle and mental health habits. Rehabilitation may include education and training. It’s a supervised program that may consist of lung function tests and breathing exercises.

Oxygen therapy

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.

Lung transplant

When all other treatments fail, your healthcare team may recommend a transplant. Doctors consider this option if you have end-stage COPD and are not likely to live for more than 2 years.

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
  • genetics
  • lifestyle factors
  • adherence to treatment
  • comorbidities

Quitting smoking and using oxygen therapy (if needed) can greatly enhance your quality of life and longevity.

Acute vs. chronic bronchitis

The main difference between acute and chronic bronchitis is how long the condition lasts and whether it goes away for good on its own.

Acute bronchitisChronic bronchitis
comes on suddenlycreates a cough that lasts months at a time
lasts less than 3 weeksis not curable
may lead to a cough that lingers after the infection goes awaymay have symptoms that go away and come back
is caused by a virus or infectionis caused by inflammation
will go away on its own with timedoesn’t go away on its own
does not cause lasting breathing problemsrequires lifestyle changes to manage
may require other treatment
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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.