Bronchitis is an inflammatory condition that affects the airways that connect to the lungs (trachea and bronchi). The bronchial tubes transport air to and from the lungs. When the airways become irritated, they undergo inflammation and become swollen. Additionally, excess mucus is produced, leading to a coughing reflex. Bronchitis is often classified as acute or chronic.

The cough associated with bronchitis can persist for several days to a couple of weeks, serving as its primary symptom. Acute bronchitis is predominantly caused by viruses, making them the most common culprits. However, both acute and chronic bronchitis can be triggered by exposure to smoke and other irritants.

Acute bronchitis, commonly referred to as a chest cold, is primarily caused by viral infections. This condition typically resolves on its own within a week to ten days, without any lasting effects. In contrast, chronic bronchitis poses a more serious health concern as it involves persistent irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. Smoking is a frequent culprit behind this condition, which can lead to long-term complications.

Chronic bronchitis is a component of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). An additional set of treatments are often necessary to treat the condition.


Signs and symptoms for either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Fever and chills
  • Runny nose
  • The production of mucus, known as sputum, can vary in color, ranging from clear, white, yellowish gray, to green. In rare cases, there may be traces of blood in the mucus.
  • Chest discomfort

Symptoms of acute bronchitis are often similar to that of cold symptoms. If you are experiencing acute bronchitis, you may exhibit cold-like symptoms, including mild headache and body aches. Typically, these symptoms improve within a week. However, a persistent and lingering cough may persist for several weeks even after other symptoms have subsided.

With chronic bronchitis, cough and other symptoms are likely to worsen at times. Productive cough may last at least three months with repeated attacks lasting at least two years. An acute infection on top of chronic bronchitis is also possible.

The initial symptom of bronchitis is a persistent cough. In most cases of bronchitis, coughing is accompanied by the expectoration of mucus, although a dry cough can also occur. Furthermore, individuals with bronchitis may experience whistling or a rattling sound while breathing.

If any signs and symptoms persist, it is important to seek medical attention from a healthcare provider for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment. Distinguishing between bronchitis and more serious conditions can sometimes be challenging.

Particularly, consultation with a healthcare professional is necessary under the following circumstances:

  • The cough persists for over three weeks
  • Cough is accompanied by a fever exceeding 102°F (38.9°C).
  • The cough produces blood or discolored mucus, causes wheezing or shortness of breath, and interferes with sleep.


With bronchitis, the airways become irritated, and the immune system triggers a response that leads to swelling and mucus accumulation. Coughing is an attempt to expel the mucus. If there remains mucus or inflammation in the airways, coughing will persist.

This condition is caused by a virus. It can, however, be caused by almost anything that irritates the airways. Bronchitis can be caused by both infectious and noninfectious agents.

Acute bronchitis is primarily caused by viruses. Influenza (the flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, rhinovirus (the common cold), and coronavirus are all viruses that cause bronchitis. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. Air pollution, dust, and harmful substances in the environment or workplace can also aggravate the illness.

Risk factors

There are several factors that can increase the risk of developing bronchitis:

  • Tobacco smoke: Either type of bronchitis is more likely to develop in people who smoke or live around with someone who does.
  • Low resistance: This can occur due to another acute illness, like a cold, or it may be linked to a chronic condition that weakens your immune system. Older people, infants, and children are more vulnerable to infection.
  • Frequent exposure to irritants: Exposure to air contaminants or lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or being exposed to chemical fumes, increases one risk of having bronchitis. This is often a job-related exposure.
  • Acid reflux: Suffering from GERD or chronic acid reflux can result in severe heartburn which can irritate the throat and increase one’s risk of developing bronchitis.