Like COVID-19, both acute and chronic types of bronchitis can affect your respiratory tract.

Can having bronchitis put you at higher risk for complications if you contract the new coronavirus? And are you more likely to get COVID-19 if you have bronchitis?

We’ll answer those questions in this article, and also provide tips on how to stay safe and healthy if you have bronchitis.

There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis is a short-term infection that’s typically caused by a virus.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a more serious, long-term condition. It develops gradually rather than coming on suddenly.

Let’s look at these two types of bronchitis more closely.

Acute bronchitis

Also known as a chest cold, acute bronchitis can result from a viral or bacterial infection, or environmental factors. Viruses — like those that cause a cold or flu — cause about 85 to 95 percent of cases of acute bronchitis in adults.

The hallmark symptom of acute bronchitis is a persistent cough. The acute version of this lung disease tends to get better within a week or two without any lasting impact. However, coughing may persist for 3 weeks or longer.

About 5 percent of adults report an episode of acute bronchitis each year. This accounts for more than 10 million clinical visits annually, most of which are seen during the flu season.

Chronic bronchitis

Along with emphysema, chronic bronchitis is one of the lung diseases that fall under the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) umbrella.

Recurring bouts of acute bronchitis may progress to chronic bronchitis. However, smoking most commonly causes chronic bronchitis. In fact, more than 90 percent of people with chronic bronchitis have a history of smoking.

Chronic bronchitis is characterized by a wet cough that typically produces thick, discolored mucus. Other symptoms can include:

  • wheezing
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain

Chronic bronchitis symptoms can last for months or years.

According to the most recent research, about 3 to 7 percent of adults have chronic bronchitis. However, it can be as high as 74 percent in those who also have a COPD diagnosis.

Having bronchitis doesn’t put you at higher risk for contracting the new coronavirus.

But, because of the lung inflammation that’s caused by bronchitis, having this condition — especially chronic bronchitis — may raise your risk for having more serious complications if you do contract the virus and develop COVID-19.

Bronchitis inflames the epithelial lining of your bronchial tubes. These tubes transport air to and from your lungs. Inflammation and damage to this lining can weaken the cellular barrier that helps protect your lungs.

Mucus production within swollen airways can also block the hair-like projections in your lungs from sweeping germs and debris out of the airways.

This makes it easier for germs — such as the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 — to attack your lungs. And, as a result, you may have more lung damage and have a harder time breathing if you develop COVID-19.

COVID-19 can trigger acute symptoms that mimic or worsen bronchitis symptoms. Common symptoms of COVID-19 include:

These and other symptoms can be more pronounced if you have chronic bronchitis.

Although less common than the symptoms mentioned above, other symptoms of COVID-19 can include:

If you think you may have COVID-19 symptoms, call your doctor. If you don’t have a primary care doctor, get in touch with your local public health department to report your symptoms and to find out what to do.

Your doctor will assess your symptoms, either in person or via a video consultation, and advise you on what measures to take. They will also let you know if and when you need to get tested for the disease.

Home care

If you have mild COVID-19 symptoms, your doctor will likely suggest home care. This will include self-isolation for at least 10 days and careful monitoring for new or worsening symptoms.

Unless instructed otherwise by your doctor, home isolation may be discontinued only after all the following occur:

  • 3 days (72 hours) with no fever (without the use of fever-reducing medications)
  • respiratory symptoms have improved
  • at least 10 days have passed since symptom onset

Urgent care

COVID-19 symptoms that call for urgent medical evaluation by your doctor or at a local urgent care clinic include but aren’t limited to:

  • mild, intermittent shortness of breath
  • mild, intermittent chest or abdominal pain
  • persistent coughing
  • fever of 100.4°F (38°C) to 103°F (39.4°C) that lasts more than 3 days and doesn’t improve with home care

Emergency care

Symptoms that require immediate medical care at your local emergency department include but aren’t limited to:

  • persistent or severe shortness of breath
  • persistent or severe chest or abdominal pain
  • confusion or trouble thinking clearly
  • bluish lips or nail beds
  • fever of 103°F (39.4°C) or higher that does not improve with cooling measures
  • a rapid or weak pulse

While most people will recover from COVID-19, it may take months for lung function to improve and lung scarring to heal.

For people with chronic bronchitis, the recovery may take even longer, as the symptoms of COVID-19 may be more severe.

Researchers and health experts are currently investigating COVID-19 treatment and vaccine options. For now, interventions are focused on symptom relief and lowering the risk of complications.

Timely and appropriate care is critical if you have bronchitis and develop COVID-19.

If you have bronchitis, be sure to carefully follow your care plan as outlined by your doctor. This includes taking your medications as prescribed.

It’s also important to stay hydrated. This can help maintain proper blood volume and healthy mucous membranes within your respiratory tract, which, in turn, may help stave off infection and tissue damage.

Additionally, be sure to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines to limit your exposure to the new coronavirus.

Guidelines for safe physical distancing

  • Stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) away from other people.
  • Wear a snug-fitting face mask with at least two layers when in public settings. Talk with your doctor if this isn’t feasible for you.
  • Avoid large crowds, indoor events or gatherings, air travel, and public transportation whenever possible.
  • Keeping your distance from others is especially important if you have bronchitis or any other condition that puts you at higher risk for complications.
  • If you’ve had close-contact exposure to someone who tested positive for the new coronavirus or COVID-19, make sure you quarantine for 14 days from the date you were last exposed to that person.
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Hygiene safety tips

  • Wash your hands well with plain soap and clean, running water for at least 20 seconds each time you touch a contaminated surface and after you’ve been around others who aren’t in your household.
  • Don’t touch your face, mouth, nose, eyes, or face mask without first washing your hands thoroughly.
  • Use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol when you’re unable to wash your hands right away.
  • Regularly clean and disinfect surfaces in your home that are frequently touched.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with the crook of your elbow or a clean tissue when you sneeze or cough.
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If you have bronchitis, especially chronic bronchitis, you may be at higher risk for more complex and severe COVID-19 symptoms and complications.

To reduce your risk for exposure to the new coronavirus, it’s important to stay at least 6 feet away from other people and to avoid crowds, gatherings, and indoor places where people tend to congregate.

Also be sure to wash your hands often. Avoid touching your face, mouth, eyes, and nose when out in public until you can wash your hands.

Timely and appropriate care is critical if you have chronic bronchitis and develop COVID-19. Be sure to contact your doctor right away if you suspect that you’ve contracted an infection to find out what to do and what type of care you need.