Healthy Living

What complications may occur if bronchitis goes untreated?

What complications may occur if bronchitis goes untreated?

Usually, acute bronchitis may not cause any complications if it occurs first time in a person as it goes away by taking proper rest after about two to three weeks. However, if bronchitis is left untreated, it can affect the respiratory system of the body and damage the airways and the lungs. Because of this damage, many complications including some serious life threatening illness can also happen. Though some of these complications may be rare, they can still occur. Medical professionals find it difficult to distinguish between the symptoms of acute bronchitis and complications of acute bronchitis. The list of complications includes: 

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This disease can cause continuous obstruction to the airways of the lungs and damage the bronchial tubes. This results in leakage of air into the chest cavity. The condition of this disease worsens gradually as the days go and becomes a serious threat to life.  In the United States alone about 25% of bronchitis-related deaths are attributed to COPD. This damage is permanent and cannot be rectified easily, 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.

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PneumoniaIf acute bronchitis worsens further another serious health disorder called pneumonia can happen. Pneumonia can cause obstructions in the airways of the lungs. This is because of the swelling that takes place due to inflammation in the bronchial tubes. The person affected by pneumonia faces difficulty breathing normally, and can have a high fever, chest bulging associated with pain, weakness, tiredness, frequent coughing, short breath, and restlessness. The person affected by pneumonia will always be sneezing, coughing out mucus or sputum and will be looking weak and tired. It is a life-threatening disease for babies, elderly people and others who have other medical complications.

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.

Acute 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 is a very serious chronic respiratory failure which may lead to death if it is not treated immediately, as the buildup of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream is extremely deadly.

PneumothoraxThis disease condition happens due to damage of the lung tissue because of any health problem. COPD is one of the main causes for this disease. Severe and sudden chest pain and shortness of breath are the symptoms of this disease. Immediate hospitalization and treatment are necessary in most cases.

Bronchiectasis: It is an inflammation in the walls of airways. These airways thicken and get scarred and flabby. Bronchiectasis can happen due to infection or other elements that can affect the walls of the airways. If the mucus does not get 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 untreated. Hospitalization of the person affected by this disease is usually necessary. 

Bronchopneumonia: This 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. Though it is usually minor, in some cases it turns out to be severe needing urgent hospitalization.

Corpulmonale: A high pressure caused in the arteries of lungs and the right ventricle of the heart creates this condition. This increased pressure results in poor transportation of blood to the lungs and failure of the right ventricle. By controlling the blood pressure of lungs, this condition can be avoided.

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 left unchecked can progress to lung cancer.

Heart Attacks: 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 can lead to heart attacks in individuals with pre-existing heart conditions.


Our lungs are vital organs, 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 is containable 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 of asthma or HIV, any infection can lead to further more serious complications and should receive medical attention.

Because of its long term nature, patients suffering from chronic bronchitis are at a higher risk from developing secondary problems if symptoms are left unchecked. Not the least of 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 serious, life threatening and can lead to death if left untreated.

With this in mind make sure to always get checked up by a physician if you are experiencing bronchitis like symptoms of heavy coughing with mucus, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, nasal congestion, headaches and muscle aches. The doctor is best qualified to assess the symptoms and make a diagnosis and decided on a course of action.