Chronic Bronchitis

What is chronic bronchitis?

Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These are the airways called
bronchi. This inflammation causes too much mucus production and other changes. There are
different types of bronchitis. But the most common are acute and chronic.

Chronic bronchitis is long-term inflammation of the bronchi. It’s common among smokers.
People with chronic bronchitis tend to get lung infections more easily. They also have
episodes of acute bronchitis, when symptoms are worse.

To be classified as chronic bronchitis:

  • You must have a cough and mucus most days for at least 3 months a year, for 2 years in a row.
  • Other causes of symptoms, such as tuberculosis or other lung diseases, must be ruled out.

People with chronic bronchitis have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This
is a large group of lung diseases that includes chronic bronchitis. These diseases can
block air flow in the lungs and cause breathing problems. The 2 most common conditions
of COPD are chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

What causes chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is not caused by a virus or bacteria. Most experts agree that the
main cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution and your work
environment may also play a role. This is especially true if you also smoke.

Bronchitis symptoms often happen with other lung diseases, such as:

  • Asthma
  • Pulmonary emphysema
  • Scarring of the lungs (pulmonary fibrosis)
  • Sinusitis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Upper respiratory infections

What are the symptoms of chronic bronchitis?

Below are the most common symptoms of chronic bronchitis. But each person may have slightly different symptoms.

Symptoms may include:

  • Cough, often called smoker’s cough
  • Coughing up mucus (expectoration)
  • Wheezing
  • Chest discomfort

People with chronic bronchitis often have a cough and make mucus for many years before
they have shortness of breath.

Chronic bronchitis may cause:

  • Disability
  • Frequent and severe infections that affect your airways
  • Narrowing and plugging of your breathing tubes (bronchi)
  • Trouble breathing

Other symptoms may include:

  • Bluish fingernails, lips, and skin because of lower oxygen levels
  • Wheezing and crackling sounds with breathing
  • Swollen
    feet
  • Heart failure

The
symptoms of chronic bronchitis may look like other lung conditions or health problems.
See your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is chronic bronchitis
diagnosed?

Your
healthcare provider will take a complete health history and do a physical exam. He or
she may order the following tests:

Pulmonary function
tests

These tests help to measure the lungs’ ability to move air in and out of your lungs.
The tests are often done with special machines that you breathe into. They may
include:

Spirometry.
This test uses a spirometer device to see how well your lungs are working. It’s
one of the simplest, most common pulmonary function tests. It may be used for any or
all of these reasons:

  • To
    find out how well your lungs take in, hold, and move air
  • To
    keep watch on a lung disease
  • To
    see how well treatment is working
  • To
    find out how serious your lung disease is
  • To
    find out if your lung disease is restrictive or obstructive. Restrictive means
    less air will get into your lungs. Obstructive means less air will get out of your
    lungs.

Peak flow
monitor. 
This test measures the fastest speed you can blow air out of your
lungs. Inflammation and mucus in the large airways in the lungs narrow the airways.
This slows the speed of air leaving the lungs. It can be measured with a peak flow
monitor. This measurement is very important in telling how well your disease is being
controlled.

Arterial blood gas

This blood test is used to check the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your
blood. It also measures the acidity of your blood.

Pulse oximetry

An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. To
get this measurement, a small sensor is taped or clipped onto a finger or toe. When
the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is
painless, and the red light does not get hot.

Chest X-ray

This test makes pictures of your internal tissues, bones, and organs, including the
lungs.

CT scan

This imaging test uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to make
images of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body,
including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than
general X-rays.

Other tests

You may have other tests, such as a blood test or sputum test to check eosinophil
levels.