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Chronic Bronchitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jun 6, 2023.

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).

The Lungs


Informed consent

is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.


is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.

You may need extra oxygen

if your blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. You may get oxygen through a mask placed over your nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in your nostrils. Ask your healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

Keep the head of your bed raised to help you breathe easier.

You can also raise your head and shoulders on pillows or rest in a reclining chair. If you feel short of breath, let healthcare providers know right away.


  • Vital signs will be closely monitored to follow your heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing.
  • A pulse oximeter is a device that measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A cord with a clip or sticky strip is placed on your finger, ear, or toe. The other end of the cord is hooked to a machine. Never turn the pulse oximeter or alarm off. An alarm will sound if your oxygen level is low or cannot be read.
  • A heart monitor is an EKG that stays on continuously to record your heart's electrical activity.


  • Blood tests may be used to show infection, test kidney function, or give information about your overall health.
  • Blood gases (or arterial blood gases) (ABGs) will show the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood. The results can tell your healthcare provider how well your lungs are working.
  • Bronchoscopy is a procedure to look inside your airway and learn the cause of your bronchitis. A bronchoscope (thin tube with a light) is inserted into your mouth and moved down your throat to your airway. You may be given medicine to numb your throat and help you relax during the procedure. Tissue and fluid may be collected from your airway or lungs to be tested.
  • X-ray pictures of your lungs and heart may show signs of infection, such as pneumonia, or a collapsed lung. X-rays may also show tumors, broken ribs, or fluid around your heart and lungs.
  • Pulmonary function tests (PFTs) help healthcare providers learn how well your body uses oxygen. You breathe into a mouthpiece connected to a machine. The machine measures how much air you breathe in and out over a certain amount of time. PFTs help your healthcare provider decide the best treatment for you.
    Pulmonary Function Test Adult
  • A sputum sample is collected in a cup when you cough. The sample is sent to a lab to be tested for the germ that is causing your bronchitis. It can also help your healthcare provider choose the best medicine to treat the infection.


  • Bronchodilators help open your airways so you can breathe easier. Your medicine is given in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. Your medicine may be delivered through an inhaler or through a mask attached to oxygen. Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.
  • Steroids help decrease inflammation in your airway so that you can breathe easier.


  • Breathing treatments may be given through a machine that changes liquid medicine into a mist. You will breathe the mist into your lungs through tubing and a mouthpiece. Inhaled mist medicines act quickly on your airways and lungs to relieve your symptoms. You may be given bronchodilator or steroid medicines during your breathing treatments.
  • Deep breathing and coughing will decrease your risk for a lung infection. Take deep breaths and cough 10 times each hour. 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.
    How to use and Incentive Spirometer
  • Postural drainage uses body position and gravity to help bring up sputum (mucus) from your lungs. Your healthcare provider will place you in different positions to help the sputum drain to larger air passages. Then you can cough it out more easily. Your provider may also lightly clap on your back and chest with his or her hands. Your provider may put a small machine that vibrates on your skin. This breaks up the sputum in your lungs, making it easier to cough up. Postural drainage may make it easier for you to breathe, decrease the chance of infection, and help you get better faster.
  • Noninvasive positive-pressure ventilation (NPPV) may help you breathe without using a breathing tube in your throat. Instead, a machine helps your lungs fill with air by using a mask or a mouthpiece. If a mask is used, it may go over your nose and mouth, or just your nose. Extra oxygen may be given to you through the machine. NPPV may help you avoid needing a breathing tube, or may be used if you do not want one.
  • A ventilator is a machine that gives you oxygen and breathes for you when you cannot breathe well on your own. An endotracheal (ET) tube is put into your mouth or nose and attached to the ventilator. You may need a trach if an ET tube cannot be placed. A trach is a tube put through an incision and into your windpipe.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

View more treatment options


  • Over time, chronic bronchitis may cause pain, trouble sleeping, or anxiety. You may need to use oxygen to help you breathe. You may lose weight without trying. Your risk for lung cancer is increased. A lung infection may be life-threatening.
  • Advanced chronic bronchitis may lead to heart problems. This happens when the heart has to work harder because of damage to your lungs. You may get swelling in your ankles, legs, or abdomen. You may have blood pressure problems or chest pain.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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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.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.