Coughing is a way for your body to get rid of harmful things in your lungs. But coughing too much can be bad, too. If you’ve had a cough that’s gone on for what feels like forever, you might have a serious condition called chronic bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). COPD is a group of lung diseases that make it hard to breathe and get worse over time. The other main type of COPD is emphysema. Most people with COPD have both emphysema and chronic bronchitis, but how severe each type is can be different from person to person.
Chronic bronchitis is inflammation (swelling) and irritation of the bronchial tubes. These tubes are the airways that carry air to and from the air sacs in your lungs. The irritation of the tubes causes mucus to build up. This mucus and the swelling of the tubes make it harder for your lungs to move oxygen in and carbon dioxide out of your body.
Causes of Chronic Bronchitis
Cigarette smoking is by far the No. 1 cause of chronic bronchitis. More than 90% of people with the disease smoke or used to smoke. Other things that raise your chances for it include:
- Secondhand smoke
- Certain fumes, like hairspray if you work in a hair salon or house paint if you’re a building contractor
- Air pollution, welding fumes, engine exhaust
- Coal, fire smoke
Twice as many women get diagnosed with chronic bronchitis as men do. Most people who have the disease are 44 to 65.
Chronic bronchitis may make it easier for you to catch respiratory infections like colds, the flu, and pneumonia.
Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis fills your airways with thick mucus. The small hairs that normally move phlegm out of your lungs are damaged. That makes you cough. As the disease goes on, it’s harder for you to breathe.
Other signs of chronic bronchitis may include:
- Cough, often with mucus
- Tight chest
- Shortness of breath
- Feeling tired
Your symptoms may be worst in the winter, when humidity and temperatures drop.
When to call Doctor?
Many people dismiss symptoms of chronic bronchitis, believing they simply have smoker’s cough. However, it’s important to contact your doctor right away if you have even the slightest suspicion that you might have bronchitis. Failing to receive timely treatment for chronic bronchitis greatly increases your risk of severe lung damage, which can lead to respiratory problems or heart failure.
Call your doctor right away if your cough:
- lasts longer than three weeks
- prevents you from sleeping
- is accompanied by a fever above 100.4°F
- produces discolored mucus or blood
- causes wheezing or shortness of breath
Your doctor will ask about your smoking history and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. You may take tests, including:
Pulmonary function tests: This is a series of measurements of how much air your lungs can hold while breathing in and out.
Chest X-ray: Uses radiation to make a picture of your lungs to rule out heart failure or other illnesses that make it hard to breathe.
Computed tomography: This CT scan give a much more detailed look at your airways than a chest X-ray.