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Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis

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Updated June 04, 2014

Chronic bronchitis is defined by the presence of a productive cough that lasts at least 3 months out of the year for 2 consecutive years. Chronic bronchitis is primarily caused by cigarette smoke and air pollution, but exacerbation of chronic bronchitis is often brought on by allergies and infection.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include the following:

1. Long-Term Cough

A long-term, productive cough during the winter months is one of the earliest signs of chronic bronchitis. The cough may be worsened by cold weather, dampness and lung irritants such as cigarette smoke. A cough is actually a defense mechanism developed by the body in an attempt to clear the airways of mucus or other types of irritants.

2. Increased Mucus Production

Substances like cigarette smoke and air pollution irritate the airways resulting in inflammation and an overproduction of mucus. When the airways are constantly exposed to irritating substances, mucus-secreting glands and cells in the lungs increase in number, cilia function is reduced and more mucus is produced. This causes the airways to become narrow and clogged.

3. Shortness of Breath

Shortness of breath, also referred to as dyspnea, can be defined as air hunger, or the sensation of having the urge to breathe. In chronic bronchitis, shortness of breath is often worsened by activity or exercise. Dyspnea is caused by lack of oxygen in the bloodstream and is one of the most common symptoms of chronic bronchitis.

4. Frequent Respiratory Infections

In chronic bronchitis, the bronchi (airways) become damaged and thickened, which alters the protective action of the bacteria-fighting cells within the lungs. The combination of increased mucus and damage to the bronchi makes a patient with chronic bronchitis more susceptible to lung infections.

5. Wheezing

Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound made during breathing and is caused by a narrowing, or blockage, of the airways. Wheezing is often heard during exhalation, but can also occur during inhalation.

6. Swelling and Weight Gain

Swelling (especially of the lower extremities) and weight gain may accompany chronic bronchitis and often occur because of side effects of certain medications used to treat the disease.

Still have questions about chronic bronchitis symptoms? Visit About.com's Symptom Checker, a great interactive tool for more detailed information about signs and symptoms of chronic bronchitis and other diseases.

Read more about chronic bronchitis, including causes, treatment and prevention:

Sources:

COPD Fact Sheet. American Lung Association. http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=252866.

Smeltzer, Suzanne C. & Bare, Brenda, G. (1996). Brunnuer and Suddarth's Testbook of Medical-Surgical Nursing (8th Edition). Pennsylvania, PA: Lipponcott-Raven Publishers.

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