What is Bronchitis?

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs, become inflamed. This inflammation is accompanied by excess mucus and a cough. Bronchitis usually follows a bout of the common cold, which can lead to pneumonia.

Bronchitis vs. pneumonia

While bronchitis and pneumonia can cause many of the same symptoms, they are two different conditions affecting different parts of the respiratory system.

  • Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, but pneumonia affects the alveoli, or air sacs in the lungs, where oxygen passes into the blood.
  • Pneumonia causes the alveoli to fill with fluid, which reduces the efficiency of your lungs in getting oxygen to the blood.

Types of Bronchitis


There are two types of bronchitis – acute (short-term) and chronic.

  • Acute bronchitis is the more common form of the disease and is usually caused by a viral infection. Symptoms of acute bronchitis can last two to three weeks but do not usually persist longer than that.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a long-term form of the condition. This type of bronchitis may persist for months and return for multiple years. An initial infection may cause it, but it can also occur after exposure to tobacco smoke or air irritants.

Signs & Symptoms of Bronchitis


Symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Frequent cough that produces mucus
  • Thick mucus that is white, yellow, clear, or green
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chest congestion
  • Whistling sound when you breathe

How contagious is bronchitis?

Bronchitis can be contagious depending on the type that you have. Since a viral or bacterial infection usually causes it, acute bronchitis can be contagious for a few days or up to a week. Chronic bronchitis is unlikely to be contagious, as long-term irritation rather than an infection usually causes it.

What Causes Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, like the flu or common cold. A bacterial infection can also cause it. Chronic bronchitis is usually caused by tobacco smoke but can also be caused by irritants in the air like dust, smoke, or toxic gases.

Risk Factors for Bronchitis


Though anyone can contract bronchitis, some risk factors may increase your chances of developing the condition. These include:

  • Exposure to pollutants or lung irritants. Living or working in highly polluted areas or in conditions where you are exposed to chemical fumes, dust, or smoke can increase your likelihood of developing bronchitis.
  • Smoking cigarettes. Smoking tobacco products increases your risk of bronchitis. This risk may increase more for females who smoke than males who smoke.
  • Family or personal history of lung disease
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Chronic heartburn can irritate the throat and increase your risk of developing bronchitis.

How to Prevent Bronchitis


There are some ways you can decrease your risk of developing bronchitis by safeguarding your health and avoiding behavioral and environmental risk factors. Prevention methods include:

  • Get vaccinated (bronchitis can evolve from influenza, which can be safeguarded against with a yearly flu vaccine)
  • Avoid smoking
  • Wash your hands
  • Eat a healthy diet
Get Care

Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Bronchitis Care

If you’re concerned you may have acute or chronic bronchitis, it’s easy to schedule an appointment with a NewYork-Presbyterian expert who will be able to identify your bronchitis symptoms, gauge the severity of your condition, and get you the care you need. With many locations across New York, our team is ready to help you wherever you are.