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Bronchitis is a condition in which the bronchial tubes, the tubes that carry air to your lungs, become inflamed.

PubMed Health Glossary
(Source: NIH - National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute)


Bronchitis (bron-KI-tis) is a condition in which the bronchial tubes become inflamed. These tubes carry air to your lungs. (For more information about the bronchial tubes and airways, go to the Health Topics How the Lungs Work article.)

People who have bronchitis often have a cough that brings up mucus. Mucus is a slimy substance made by the lining of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis also may cause wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when you breathe), chest pain or discomfort, a low fever, and shortness of breath.


The two main types of bronchitis are acute (short term) and chronic (ongoing).

Acute Bronchitis

Infections or lung irritants cause acute bronchitis. The same viruses that cause colds and the flu are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. These viruses are spread through the air when people cough. They also are spread through physical contact (for example, on hands... Read more about Bronchitis

What works? Research summarized

Evidence reviews

[Bromhexine for acute bronchitis: a systematic review]

Bibliographic details: Zhou JX, Wu FB, Xu T.  [Bromhexine for acute bronchitis: a systematic review]. Chinese Pharmaceutical Journal 2012; 47(14): 1149-1153

Clarithromycin extended-release and immediate-release formulations in the treatment of patients with acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis: a systematic review

Bibliographic details: Huang BL, Hu SL, Shen G, Wu L, Xu TJ, Chen Y, Xu WP.  Clarithromycin extended-release and immediate-release formulations in the treatment of patients with acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis: a systematic review. Chinese Journal of Evidence-Based Medicine 2011; 11(6): 693-697 Available from: http://www.cjebm.org.cn/oa/DArticle.aspx?type=view&id=201106017

Macrolides, quinolones and amoxicillin/clavulanate for chronic bronchitis: a meta-analysis

The comparative effectiveness and safety of macrolides, quinolones and amoxicillin/clavulanate (A/C) for the treatment of patients with acute bacterial exacerbation of chronic bronchitis (ABECB) was evaluated in the present study. PubMed, Current Contents and the Cochrane Central Register of Controlled Trials were searched to identify relevant randomised controlled trials (RCTs). In total, 19 RCTs (20 comparisons) were included in the present analysis. There was no difference regarding treatment success in intention-to-treat and clinically evaluable patients between macrolides and quinolones, A/C and quinolones or A/C and macrolides. The treatment success in microbiologically evaluable patients was lower for macrolides compared with quinolones (odds ratio (OR) 0.47, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.31-0.69). Fewer quinolone-recipients experienced a recurrence of ABECB after resolution of the initial episode compared with macrolide-recipients during the 26-week period following therapy. Adverse effects in general were similar between macrolides and quinolones. Administration of A/C was associated with more adverse effects (mainly diarrhoea) than quinolones (OR 1.36, 95% CI 1.01-1.85). Macrolides, quinolones and amoxicillin/clavulanate may be considered equivalent for the treatment of patients with an acute bacterial exacerbation of chronic bronchitis in terms of short-term effectiveness. Quinolones are associated with better microbiological success and fewer recurrences of acute bacterial exacerbation of chronic bronchitis than macrolides, while amoxicillin/clavulanate is associated with more adverse effects than both comparators.

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Summaries for consumers

Chinese medicinal herbs for acute bronchitis

We assessed the therapeutic effect of traditional Chinese herbal medicines commonly used in China for acute bronchitis. There is no evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to demonstrate that Chinese medicinal herbs are efficacious in treating acute bronchitis.

Psychosocial interventions to help people with chronic bronchitis and emphysema to quit smoking.

Smoking cessation is the most important treatment for smokers with chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking cessation interventions can be divided into psychosocial interventions (e.g. counselling, self‐help materials, and behavioral therapy) and pharmacotherapy (e.g. nicotine replacement therapy, bupropion). Although a lot of research has been done on the effectiveness of interventions for "healthy" smokers, the effectiveness of smoking cessation interventions for smokers with chronic bronchitis and emphysema has so far gained far less attention. However, there is some evidence that combining psychosocial intervention with pharmacotherapy could be effective for this group of smokers trying to quit smoking. More research is needed to determine what kinds of interventions are most effective for which kind of patient.

Telehealthcare for COPD ‐ bronchitis and emphysema

The smoking related diseases of bronchitis and emphysema are now considered under the umbrella term of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, COPD. This is because they are diseases which leave people breathless and often with a cough and increased phlegm. Such people often have times when their COPD worsens and they cannot "get their breath" and have to go into hospital for treatment. It is very expensive to look after people this way and often they do not want to spend time in hospital but there are few alternatives. Telehealthcare involves using technology such as telephones, video cameras and the Internet to allow people to stay at home and communicate with a nurse or doctor when they have a period of increased breathlessness. The professional can obtain information from the patient to allow them to prescribe treatments and monitor the patient closely without them having to go into hospital or to the emergency department. This study shows that people treated this way do manage to stay out of hospital longer than people treated by conventional systems of care. There are also some data showing that although these systems are expensive to start off with, if they are successful at keeping people out of hospital, then the cost saving from this means that they are cheaper in the long run.

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Terms to know

Describes something that happens suddenly and for a short time. Opposite of chronic, or long lasting.
The large air passages that lead from the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs.
Refers to disorders that last a long time, often years. Chronic is the opposite of acute, or brief.
Cough: Symptom
A cough is a natural reflex that protects your lungs. Coughing helps clear your airways of lung irritants, such as smoke and mucus (a slimy substance).
The invasion and growth of germs in the body. The germs may be bacteria, viruses, yeast, fungi, or other microorganisms.
Redness, swelling, pain, and/or a feeling of heat in an area of the body. This is a protective reaction to injury, disease, or irritation of the tissues.
One of a pair of organs in the chest that supplies the body with oxygen, and removes carbon dioxide from the body.

More about Bronchitis

Photo of a young adult

See Also: Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Other terms to know: See all 7
Acute, Bronchi, Chronic

Related articles:
How the Lungs Work

Keep up with systematic reviews on Bronchitis:


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