Respiratory infections #1: Bronchitis

Explore this health file to better understand bronchitis: its causes, its symptoms but also the means of treatment.

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Respiratory infections are disorders that manifest in the upper airways such as the nose, throat, sinuses and larynx, or in the lower respiratory tract, including the trachea, bronchi and lungs. These can be caused by various pathogens such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and other microorganisms, which are spread through direct contact, air or via contaminated surfaces. [1]

Predominant respiratory infections include: sinusitis, influenza, pulmonary abscess, bronchitis or pneumonia. [1]

This health report will focus on bronchitis.

I. Definition and key figures:

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, the airways responsible for transporting air from the trachea to the lungs. It is usually viral in origin.


This inflammation can lead to excessive mucus production, impeding breathing and causing coughing. [2]

There are two main forms of bronchitis: acute and chronic. [3]

Acute bronchitis is characterized by temporary inflammation of the respiratory tract. Most of the time, it is caused by viral or bacterial infections but can also be caused by irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution or chemicals.

For most people, bronchitis gets better without treatment in about ten days. However, the cough may persist a little longer.

Chronic bronchitis, also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), occurs several times a year and is characterized by persistent inflammation and obstruction of the airways. Indeed, in chronic bronchitis, secretions can cause damage such as obstructions in the lungs. Associated symptoms include a productive cough sometimes with mucous sputum, wheezing or shortness of breath and a feeling of tiredness. [4]

Key figures:
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death worldwide. It caused 3.23 million deaths in 2019. [5]
  • Around 90% of COPD deaths in people under 70 occur in middle- and low-income countries. [5]

II. Causes

Acute bronchitis often appears after viral infections, such as colds and flu, and in rare cases after bacterial infections. [3]

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is often caused by prolonged exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, chemicals or dust. We underline that smoking is the main cause. Regular respiratory infections and a lung disease family history’s can also contribute to chronic bronchitis development. [6]

Chronic bronchitis is an ongoing illness that cannot be cured. However, its symptoms can be alleviated by adopting measures such as smoking cessation and preventive vaccination to fight against infections. [6][7]

 III. Symptoms

Symptoms of acute bronchitis usually appear a few days after a viral infection such as the common cold. It often begins with a dry cough, which later turns into a productive cough with the appearance of clear or whitish sputum, which may turn yellow or green when it is a bacterial infection. In addition to the cough, acute bronchitis is accompanied by fever, headache, sore throat and sometimes sinusitis, pharyngitis or laryngitis. [3]

Chronic bronchitis includes persistent symptoms such as a chronic and productive cough, shortness of breath (dyspnea) and a feeling of fatigue. [5]

IV. Prevention

To prevent acute bronchitis and reduce the risk of infection:

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to eliminate the germs that can cause bronchitis.
  • Air your apartment or house regularly.
  • Avoid smoky places. Smoking, whether active or passive, increases the risk of bronchitis and other respiratory infections.
  • If possible, avoid places where the air is polluted.

Chronic bronchitis is best prevented by stopping smoking. In fact, 90% of chronic bronchitis cases are caused by smoking. Non-smokers are advised not to start smoking and to avoid smoky places to prevent the disease as much as possible. [8]

For people living with chronic bronchitis, it is strongly recommended to protect themselves against various lung infections by getting vaccinated against influenza, pneumonia, and COVID-19. [5]

V. Treatment

Although acute and chronic bronchitis share many similarities in their symptoms, they are not treated in the same way:

Acute bronchitis gets better in about ten days for healthy people. Certain medications can be used to relieve symptoms such as fever and dry cough. [9]

Treatment is different when it comes to chronic bronchitis. Being a long-term pathology, it focuses more on managing the disease rather than curing it, since there is no treatment. In fact, medications are more aimed at reducing symptoms and providing relief to the patient. Therapeutic management thus relies on smoking cessation, respiratory rehabilitation and the use of inhaled therapies. [6]

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POI 0897-11/23
Sources :
[1] Revue générale des infections virales respiratoires – Maladies infectieuses – Édition professionnelle du Manuel MSD (
[2] Bronchite aiguë – Troubles pulmonaires et des voies aériennes – Manuels MSD pour le grand public (
[3] Bronchite : causes et symptômes | | Assuré
[4] Bronchite – symptômes, causes, traitements et prévention – VIDAL
[5] Bronchopneumopathie chronique obstructive (BPCO) (
[6] Haute Autorité de Santé – BPCO – Causes fréquentes : tabagisme et expositions professionnelles (
[7] Causes et prévention de la bronchite aiguë – VIDAL
[8] Causes et prévention de la BPCO – VIDAL
[9] Comment soigner une bronchite aiguë ? – VIDAL