Healthy Living

What Complications May Occur If Bronchitis Goes Untreated?

What complications may occur if bronchitis goes untreated?

Acute bronchitis may not cause any complications if it occurs the first time in a person. It usually goes away by taking proper rest after about two to three weeks. However, if bronchitis is left untreated, it can affect the respiratory system and damage the airways and lungs. Because of this damage, many complications including life-threatening conditions can also happen. Although some of these complications are rare, they can still occur. Below is a list of bronchitis complications: 

1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

This disease can cause a continuous obstruction to the airways of the lungs and damage to the bronchial tubes. This condition gradually worsens as the days go and becomes a serious threat to life. In the United States alone, about 25 percent of bronchitis-related deaths are attributed to COPD. This damage is permanent and cannot be easily rectified, but a further worsening of the disease can be reduced by taking proper medication, rest, and other preventive measures, such as quitting smoking, living, or working in an unpolluted atmosphere.


2. Pneumonia

If acute bronchitis further worsens, another serious health disorder called pneumonia can happen. Pneumonia can cause an obstruction of the airways due to the swelling that takes place in the bronchial tubes. A person affected by pneumonia usually experiences the following symptoms:

A person affected by pneumonia will be sneezing, coughing out mucus or sputum, and will be looking weak and tired. Pneumonia is a life-threatening disease for babies, elderly people, and individuals who have other medical complications.

3. Emphysema

Emphysema is a serious lung infection caused by chronic bronchitis. This disease damages the alveoli, the small air sacs in the lungs causing obstruction to breathing. If the damage is severe, it causes respiratory failure, which can become a life-threatening medical condition.

4. Respiratory Failure

Respiratory failure occurs when the air sacs in the lungs get filled up with fluid. The lungs become weak and inactive, making it difficult to extract the oxygen from the air and release it into the bloodstream. Ultimately, the functioning of various organs gets affected because of insufficient supply of adequate oxygen-rich blood. At the same time, removal of carbon dioxide from the lungs is also affected. This condition is a very serious chronic respiratory failure, which may lead to death if not treated immediately since the buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is extremely deadly.

5. Pneumothorax

This condition happens due to damage to the lung tissue because of any health problem. COPD is one of the main causes of this condition. Its common symptoms are severe and sudden chest pain along with shortness of breath. Immediate hospitalization and treatment are necessary in most cases.

6. Bronchiectasis

It is an inflammation in the walls of airways. These airways thicken, get scarred, and flabby. Bronchiectasis can happen due to infection or other elements that can affect the walls of the airways. If the mucus is not cleared, it gets collected and provides more opportunity for microorganisms to grow and increase the infection. The functioning of the lungs declines as time goes by if this condition is left untreated. Hospitalization is usually necessary in this case.  

7. Bronchopneumonia

Bronchopneumonia is a type of pneumonia associated with lung diseases, such as COPD, asthma, or cystic fibrosis. Bronchopneumonia affects both lungs and the bronchi. The infection causes inflammation in the alveoli of the bronchi, which are tiny air sacs in the lungs that pull oxygen out of the air that is drawn in, causing the production of fluid or pus. Although it is usually minor, it turns out to be severe in some cases, which need urgent hospitalization.

8. Cor Pulmonale

This condition usually arises as a complication form pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the pulmonary arteries). This increased pressure results in poor transportation of blood to the lungs and failure of the heart's right ventricle. This condition can be prevented by controlling high blood pressure in the lungs. 

9. Lung Cancer

Because chronic bronchitis and COPD have similar causes to lung cancer, it is possible that further exposure to toxic chemicals, fumes, and pollutants that are left unchecked can progress to lung cancer.

10. Heart Attack

Both acute and chronic bronchitis are characteristic of heavy formation of mucus in the inner lining of the bronchi. The resulting constriction of the airways adds to pressure on the heart, and if left untreated, it can lead to a heart attack in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.


Our lungs are vital organs, and without them, we would not survive. It is, therefore, of utmost importance, that we do not take our lungs for granted.

Bronchitis is a disease that affects the branched bronchial tubes, which are an integral part of our lungs, and important for the transport of air into our lungs. The narrowing of these airways caused by acute or chronic bronchitis greatly reduces the amount of oxygen that the body receives. Aside from putting a huge strain on the heart, lungs, and all other organs, if left untreated, these conditions could lead to further irreversible damage, which could only make the situation worse.

By itself, acute bronchitis can be managed and usually clears up on its own once the disease has run its course. However, in cases of individuals with weak or compromised immune systems, like children, elderly people, and patients with asthma or HIV, any infection can lead to more serious complications and should receive medical attention.

Because of its chronic nature, patients who have bronchitis have an increased risk of developing secondary problems, if symptoms are left unchecked. These secondary conditions are chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pneumonia, acute respiratory failure, bronchopneumonia, and even lung cancer to name a few. Many of these conditions are life-threatening and can lead to death if left untreated.

With this in mind, make sure to see a healthcare provider if you are experiencing bronchitis-like symptoms, such as heavy coughing with mucus, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, headaches and muscle aches. Seeking medical help from a healthcare provider is the best way to properly diagnose and treat your condition.