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Chronic Bronchitis


Chronic bronchitis is a long-term swelling and irritation in the air passages in your lungs. The irritation may damage your lungs. This lung damage often gets worse over time, and it is usually permanent. Chronic bronchitis is part of a group of lung diseases called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).



  • Antibiotics: This medicine will help fight or prevent an infection. Take your antibiotics until they are gone, even if you feel better.

  • Inhalers: You may need one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. Ask your primary healthcare provider to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.

  • Steroid medicine: Steroid medicine help open your air passages so you can breathe easier.

  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

How to use an inhaler:

  • Shake the inhaler well to make sure you get the correct amount of medicine per puff. Remove the cover from your inhaler's mouthpiece. If you use a spacer, connect your inhaler to the flat end of the spacer.

  • Breathe out as much air from your lungs as you can. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth past your front teeth and rest it on the top of your tongue. Do not block the mouthpiece opening with your tongue.

  • Breathe in through your mouth at a slow and steady rate. As you do this, press the inhaler to release the puff of medicine. Finish breathing in slowly and deeply as you inhale the medicine. When your lungs are full, hold your breath for 10 seconds. Then breathe out slowly through puckered lips or through your nose.

  • If you need to take more puffs, wait at least 1 minute between each puff.

  • Rinse your mouth with water after you use the inhaler. This may keep you from getting a mouth infection or irritation.

  • Follow the instructions that come with your inhaler to clean it. You should clean your inhaler at least once a week.

Ways to help you breathe better:

  • Deep breathing and coughing: Deep breathing helps to open the air passages in your lungs. Coughing helps to bring up mucus from your lungs. To do this, take a deep breath and hold the breath in as long as you can. Then push the air out of your lungs with a deep, strong cough. Put any coughed-up mucus into a tissue and throw it in the trash. Take 10 deep breaths each hour that you are awake. Follow each deep breath with a cough.

  • Pursed-lip breathing: Pursed-lip breathing can be used any time you feel short of breath. Pursed-lip breathing can be especially helpful before you start an activity.

    • Breathe in through your nose. Use the muscles in your abdomen to help fill your lungs with air.

    • Slowly breathe out through your mouth with your lips slightly puckered. You should make a quiet hissing sound as you breathe out.

    • Try to take twice as long to breathe out as it did to breathe in. This helps you get rid of as much air from your lungs as possible.

    • Repeat this exercise several times. Once you are used to doing pursed-lip breathing, you can do it any time you need more air.
    Breathe in Breathe out

  • Diaphragmatic breathing: Diaphragmatic breathing can help strengthen some of the muscles you use to breathe.

    • Place one hand on your stomach just below your ribs. Place your other hand in the middle of your chest over your breastbone.

    • Breathe in slowly through your nose, as deeply as you can.

    • Breathe out slowly through pursed lips. As you do so, tighten the muscles in your stomach. Use your hand to gently push in and up while tightening the muscles.

    • Diaphragmatic breathing takes practice. You may need to practice this many times a day. Slowly increase the amount of time you spend during each practice session.

Ways to care for yourself:

  • Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you: If you smoke, it is never too late to quit.

  • Avoid lung irritants: Avoid high altitudes and places with high humidity. Stay inside, or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when you are outside during cold weather. You should also stay inside on days when air pollution levels are high. If you have allergies, stay inside when pollen counts are high. Avoid aerosol products. This includes spray-on deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.

  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. When you have bronchitis, you need to be able to cough and sneeze to clear your air passages. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.

  • Drink more liquids: Most people should drink at least 8 eight-ounce cups of water a day. You may need to drink more liquids when you have chronic bronchitis. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus.

  • Get more rest: You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.

  • Eat healthy foods: Eat fruits, vegetables, breads, and protein (such as chicken, fish, and beans). Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and ice cream) can sometimes increase the amount of mucus your body makes. Ask if you should eat fewer dairy products.

  • Special positions while sleeping: You may have trouble breathing when lying down. Sleeping in a position with your upper body raised may help you breathe easier. You can use foam wedges or elevate the head of your bed. There are many devices that you can buy to help raise your upper body while in bed. Use a device that will tilt your whole body, or bend your body at the waist. The device should not bend your body at the upper back or neck.

  • Avoid the spread of germs:

    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when there is no soap and water available.

    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.

    • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.

    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.

Follow up with your primary healthcare provider or lung specialist as directed:

Write down questions you have so you will remember to ask them during follow-up visits.

Contact your primary healthcare provider or lung specialist if:

  • You have a fever.

  • You use your inhalers more often than usual.

  • You have new or increased swelling in your legs, ankles, or abdomen.

  • You run out of breath easily when you talk or do your usual exercise or activities.

  • You have any questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Return to the emergency department if:

  • You have new chest pain or tightness.

  • You become tired easily from trying to get enough breath.

  • You become confused, dizzy, or feel like you may faint.

  • The amount or color of your sputum changes or becomes too hard to cough up.

  • You have a new or increased gray or blue tint of your nail beds. You may also see color changes in your fingers or lips.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.