Healthy Living

How Long Can Bronchitis Last?

How Long Can Bronchitis Last?

Key Takeaways

  • Acute bronchitis typically clears within 2-3 weeks, but the resultant cough can linger for a longer period of time.
  • When membranes of the bronchial tubes become inflamed and irritated repeatedly, chronic bronchitis develops.
  • Acute bronchitis is caused by infections which trigger the initial swelling and irritation. Chronic bronchitis may be caused by a variety of different factors. 

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lungs, sometimes commonly known as a chest cold. It can range from mild to severe and can be an infection such as the common cold. Bacteria, exposure to smoke and chemical irritants may also cause bronchitis. The most common symptoms of bronchitis are cough, fatigue and accumulation of phlegm. These symptoms result from other conditions. Hence it is important to receive a correct diagnosis and treatment.

Bronchitis in the Lungs

The membranes of the bronchial tubes swell and thicken in bronchitis patients due to inflammation, thereby constricting the airways. Excess mucus is also secreted by the irritated membranes which can cover and clog the breathing tube. The body of the patient with bronchitis attempts to expel these secretions through a persistent cough.

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

For How Long Does Acute Bronchitis Last?

This condition typically occurs within 3-4 days after a cold or flu. It normally begins with a dry cough and generates mucus later. Although acute bronchitis usually clears up in 2-3 weeks, it can leave a lasting cough. After the infection has cleared, a patient's lungs go back to their original shape and condition.  

Chronic Bronchitis

If you have a cough that contains phlegm and lasts anywhere from three months to a year, you may have chronic bronchitis. This is a severe form of bronchitis which makes you more susceptible to bacterial infections in the lungs and requires vigorous medical treatment. Chronic bronchitis may also cause difficulty in breathing. 

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis

When the membranes of a person's bronchial tubes become repeatedly inflamed and irritated, chronic bronchitis develops. The patient's airways can even be permanently damaged by constant swelling and irritation. This inflammation results in the accumulation of mucus in the lungs, often disrupting the flow of air and causing breathing difficulties to worsen over time. The cilia (hair-like structures that maintain the airways germ-free) that line the airways also become damaged, allowing viruses and bacteria to enter the pathway.

Acute bronchitis is typically caused by an infection. However, cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis. The cilia in the airways can become severely damaged by prolonged and frequent smoking, since inhaling the smoke temporarily paralyzes them. Because of this, chronic bronchitis can occur over time. Other causes of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Secondhand smoke
  • Chemical or industrial fumes
  • Exposure to air pollutants
  • Exposure to toxic gases
  • Recurring lung infections 

Individuals suffering from short-term bronchitis normally recover within several days. However, they can still have a cough for one to two weeks as the lungs’ air passages recover. Chronic or long-term bronchitis lasts longer and since the lung damage may be permanent, it may never resolve. Since there is a lot of mucus being generated, the natural response of the body will be to cough it up. This cough may be recurring for a long period, subsiding and then occurring again. Individuals suffering from acute bronchitis occasionally develop pneumonia. If the patient is currently in poor health, bronchitis can make the condition worse. The individual can also suffer from a heart failure if they have chronic bronchitis since bronchitis makes the heart work extra hard to make up for the insufficient oxygen. This disease can lead to serious respiratory complications and sometimes even death.

The following factors help to prolong bronchitis.

Smoking

Apart from irritating the air passages and throat, smoke from cigarettes minimize the capability of your lungs to eliminate secretions since it destroys the cilia found in the air passages. Cilia are short hair like structures which project from the cells that coat the bronchial tubes. The regular rhythmic beating of the cilia assist in transporting mucus and debris from the lungs. If the affected individual smokes, the inflammation of the air passages is intensified and the mucus production will be increased. These secretions are not eliminated willingly from the airways of the smoker. As a result, a cough resulting from bronchitis may last longer in a person who smokes compared to a person who does not smoke.

Asthma

An inflammatory respiratory condition which is characterized by an allergic reaction and constant constriction of the air passages. It is also a leading source of a constant cough. Factors that may increase the sensitivity of the airways like fumes, smoke, infection, pollen or dust may arouse the muscles that narrow the air passages which in turn would produce a cough reflex. If you suffer from asthma, your physician may advise you to change your normal treatment schedule after you develop bronchitis.

Deliberations

Acute bronchitis is not the only source although it can result in a persistent cough. Chronic bronchitis can lead to a constant cough that never improves. A persistent cough can be as a result of emphysema, allergies, post-natal drainage, pneumonia, gastroesophagael reflux disease, lung cancer and pulmonary fibrosis. The following may be beneficial depending on the primary source of the persistent cough:

  • Bronchodilators or inhaled anti-inflammatories
  • Oral cough suppressants like codeine or dextromethorphan
  • Acid-blocking medications like pantoprazole or omeprazole
  • Antihistamines.

Consult a doctor if your cough persists for more than three weeks.

Stress

Stress can prolong colds, particularly if it is chronic. It is important to minimize stress when you are sick to make a persistent cough better. You will find yourself more sick if you push yourself too hard. Resting a lot is one method of relaxing. Aim to sleep for seven to eight hours every night.

Not Taking in Sufficient Fluids

You require plenty of fluids when you have a flu or a cold.  Soup, juice and water will assist in loosening the mucus along the air passages for you to cough it out easily. Caffeinated and alcoholic drinks are not recommended since they lead to dehydration. You can also use a humidifier or a saline nasal spray to moisten your airways.

Bacterial Infection

Bacteria can invade your airways easily after a cold since they are raw and irritated. Bacteria can lead to bronchitis, pneumonia and sinus infections. If you experience pain or fever alongside your persistent cough, the cause could be a bacterial infection.

When Should I Seek Medical Attention?

Many chronic bronchitis patients dismiss the symptoms of this condition assuming it is merely a smokers’ cough. However, you should seek medical attention as soon as you suspect that you may have bronchitis. Your lungs could be severely damaged if you do not receive medical attention.

You should seek medical attention if your cough:

  • Continues for more than three weeks
  • Keeps you from falling asleep
  • Goes along with a fever that is 100oF or higher
  • Generates mucus that is discolored or bloody
  • Results in shortness of breath or wheezing