Bronchitis is swelling and irritation of the walls of the bronchi, which are the tubes that carry air to your lungs. The main symptom of bronchitis is a persistent cough that may or may not produce mucus. There are two types of bronchitis. Acute bronchitis develops suddenly and is typically caused by a viral respiratory infection, such as the common cold or flu. Chronic bronchitis is a progressive lung disease. It develops over time and is usually caused by smoking.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Is bronchitis contagious?

    The answer depends on the type of bronchitis. Since acute bronchitis is caused by an infection (typically viral), it can be contagious. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is not contagious, as it is a progressive, long-term disease of the airways, commonly caused by smoking.

  • How long does bronchitis last?

    Acute bronchitis usually lasts for a week to 10 days—although, the cough can persist for up to three weeks, even after the infection causing it has resolved. The symptoms of chronic bronchitis last for at least three months and return multiple times over the course of at least two years.

  • How is bronchitis treated?

    Acute and chronic bronchitis are treated differently. Since acute bronchitis is usually from a viral infection, the goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. Therapies often include resting, drinking fluids, and using a humidifier. Chronic bronchitis is managed with several different therapies, including medications that both decrease inflammation and open up the airways.

  • How do you get bronchitis?

    Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, like the common cold or flu. Less commonly, a bacterial infection is the culprit. Chronic bronchitis is caused by recurrent inflammation of the bronchi, most commonly as a result of smoking. Exposure to air pollution, dust, or other environmental or workplace irritants may also cause chronic bronchitis.

Key Terms

Page Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). Reviewed August 30, 2019.

  2. American Lung Association. Chronic Bronchitis.

Additional Reading
  • Cleveland Clinic. Bronchitis. Reviewed August 12, 2019.