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Diseases & Conditions

Respiratory Institute Overview - Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an irritation of the airways caused by infection, illness, or exposure to tobacco smoke or other irritant in the air. The hallmark of bronchitis is a cough that occurs when the bronchioles (air tubes in the lungs) become inflamed and produce too much mucus. Swelling makes it difficult to get air in and out of the lungs. Symptoms include a frequent cough that produces mucus, lack of energy, and sometimes fever or a wheezing sound when breathing.

How is bronchitis treated?

Acute (short-term) bronchitis is often due to an airway infection, but may be due to a virus or bacteria. It can be treated with fluids, rest, hot showers to loosen the mucus, and aspirin or acetaminophen. When the cause is bacterial, antibiotics may be prescribed.

When bronchitis persists for two to three months each year for at least two years, it is considered chronic. Cigarette smoking is the chief cause of chronic bronchitis. Many people neglect chronic bronchitis until it is in an advanced state, because they mistakenly believe the disease is not life-threatening. However, smoking cessation and other treatments are necessary to prevent permanent lung damage that can lead to serious respiratory problems or heart failure.