Disease at a Glance: Bronchitis

Bronchitis refers to the inflammation of the mucous membranes (or linings) of the bronchial tube that carry air from the nose to the lungs. The most common cause of bronchitis is virus or bacteria, normally a result of cold or respiratory infection. When a virus/bacteria attacks the bronchial tubes, the latter get inflammed and produce extra mucous that needs to be coughed out.


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes and patients present themselves with complaints of cough and copious amount of thick sputum. It can be caused by smoking or illnesses like cold or flu when they begin to infect the respiratory system.


There are two types of bronchitis – acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis appears after an episode of respiratory tract infection, which can be caused by a virus or by a bacteria.


Common Symptoms

Cough & white-yellow-greenish mucous 
Cold with low-grade fever
Heaviness in the chest
Shortness of breath in severe cases


Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, does not have a sudden onset and is most frequently caused by long-term irritation of the bronchial tubes. As a thumb rule guide, a case of bronchitis is considered to be chronic if the symptoms continue for three months or longer.


Some believe that chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). Chronic bronchitis is caused by allergens present in the environment and exposure to airborne pollutants like cigarette smoking, etc.   


This condition, called Acute Bronchitis, is characterized by a whooping kind of cough (typically at the back of the throat) and is accompanied by white-yellow-greenish mucous. The infection usually lasts for 7- 10 days, although the cough may continue for a few more weeks.


Chronic Bronchitis, on the other hand, is characterized by a persistent cough that lasts for months on end. Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of Chronic Bronchitis. Prolonged and continuous exposure to certain air pollutants may also cause this condition. Unlike Acute Bronchitis, it is not easy to cough up the sputum because it is thicker. This makes it easier for the virus or bacteria to settle in the lower respiratory tract and damage the lungs. Antibiotics are usually prescribed for Chronic Bronchitis – steroids may also be given in extreme cases.


Key Diagnostic Tests: Chest X-ray, Lung Function Test, Sputum Examination


Additional Tests: Blood Oxygen Test, Complete Blood Count


Doctor Specialty: Pulmonologist / Internist (Internal Medicine)


Common Products: Respiratory Exerciser, Pulse Oximeter, Humidifier, Vaporizer, etc.



1) American Lung Association (
2) US National Library of Medicine (


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