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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. The 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).

Signs and symptoms include the following:

  • Early signs and symptoms may include shortness of breath, a runny or stuffy nose, or a headache. You may have a morning cough that brings up mucus from the lungs. As time passes, the amount of mucus coughed up begins to increase. The cough also starts to last longer during the day. You may have a bad taste in your mouth or bad breath.
  • Later signs and symptoms may include your skin, nail beds, or lips turning dusky or blue. You may become more short of breath and get tired more easily. You may not be able to walk as far as you used to. You may wheeze. You may notice your breathing is faster than it used to be.

Call 911 for any of the following:

  • You have new chest pain or tightness.
  • You become confused, dizzy, or feel like you may faint.
  • You have a new or increased gray or blue tint to your nail beds, fingers or lips.

Seek care immediately if:

  • You become tired easily from trying to get enough breath.
  • The amount or color of your sputum changes, or your sputum becomes too hard to cough up.

Contact your healthcare provider 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 questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Treatment for chronic bronchitis

may include medicine to treat infection or help you breathe better. You may need to use oxygen in your home. Ask your healthcare provider if you have any questions on how to take medications or use oxygen.


  • Sleep with your upper body raised. This will help you breathe easier. You can use foam wedges or elevate the head of your bed. Many devices are available 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.
  • Prevent 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 soap and water are not 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.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other substances can cause lung damage. Do not use e-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco without first talking to your healthcare provider. They still contain nicotine. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit.
  • Avoid lung irritants. Stay out of 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. Stay inside on days when air pollution or pollen counts are high. Do not use aerosol sprays such as deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.
  • Drink more liquids. This will help to keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Ask your healthcare provider about the flu and pneumonia vaccines. All adults should get the flu (influenza) vaccine every year as soon as it becomes available. The pneumonia vaccine is given to adults aged 65 or older to prevent pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia. Adults aged 19 to 64 years who are at high risk for pneumococcal disease also should get the pneumococcal vaccine. It may need to be repeated 1 or 5 years later.

Ways to help you breathe better:

  • Take deep breaths and cough 10 times each hour. This will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Take a deep breath and hold it for as long as you can. Let the air out and then cough strongly. Deep breaths help open your airway. You may be given an incentive spirometer to help you take deep breaths. Put the plastic piece in your mouth and take a slow, deep breath. Then let the air out and cough. Repeat these steps 10 times every hour.
  • 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 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 breathe out, 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.

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down your questions so you remember to ask them during your visits.

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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.