Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi — the airways in our lungs. Most people with bronchitis have a persistent, productive cough. Doctors describe bronchitis as either “acute” or “chronic.” Acute bronchitis is usually because of a virus or cold, is mild, and can be treated with over the counter medications. Occasionally more serious cases with high fever require antibiotics.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as “the presence of a chronic productive cough for three months in each of two successive years for which there is no alternative explanation.” Chronic bronchitis is thought to be very common, predominantly among cigarette smokers. A typical patient with chronic bronchitis is a man in his late forties or early fifties who has smoked at least one pack per day for at least twenty years. Symptoms vary, but people with chronic bronchitis tend to cough up gobs of gray sputum daily, complain of chest tightness or wheezing, and often have infections with worsening difficulty breathing and fever.
Treatment of chronic bronchitis includes medicines to open up the airways (bronchodilators), inhaled steroids, and antibiotics to treat flare-ups. Cigarette smoking should be stopped immediately. Because chronic bronchitis is not caused by an infection, you don’t need to be worried about “catching” it. The best way to avoid chronic bronchitis is to stay away from cigarettes.