Chronic Bronchitis: Causes and Risk Factors

Medically reviewed by | By

Update Date 22/10/2020 . 3 mins read
Share now

Chronic bronchitis is a non-curable respiratory condition that can result in complications like severe difficulty of breathing, respiratory failure, enlargement and weakness of the heart, and pneumonia. Is it possible to prevent this condition by eliminating chronic bronchitis causes? Find out here.

Bronchitis: All You Need to Know

What Does it Mean to Have Chronic Bronchitis?

Before we look into the causes of chronic bronchitis in adults, let’s first define this respiratory condition.

Chronic bronchitis is one of the two main forms of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alongside emphysema.

Essentially, COPDs like chronic bronchitis have two characteristics:

  • They make it difficult for the patient to breathe; and
  • They can become worse over time.

In chronic bronchitis, the patient’s difficulty of breathing comes from the long-term inflammation of the bronchi, the tubes that carry the air to the lungs.

chronic bronchitis causes

With inflamed bronchi, the air cannot travel as efficiently as it should, causing symptoms like shortness of breath and chest discomfort.

A person most probably has chronic bronchitis when they exhibit coughing with mucus most days for at least 3 months, with bouts recurring within at least 2 years.

But of course, other causes of productive coughing, like tuberculosis, must be ruled out before the doctor finally makes their diagnosis.

Chronic Bronchitis Causes

Now that you have a better idea of what happens during chronic bronchitis, let’s talk about its causes.

Like what we mentioned earlier, this form of COPD happens due to the long-term inflammation of the bronchi. But, what causes the inflammation?

According to reports, the most common cause of inflammation is prolonged and regular exposure to lung irritants. During this long-term exposure:

  • The patient inhales the irritants.
  • The irritants come in contact with bronchi and produce an inflammatory reaction.
  • Since the exposure is prolonged and regular, the inflammatory response continues to happen, resulting in excessive production of mucus.
  • The excessive mucus often results in productive cough, sometimes also called “smoker’s cough”.
  • Over time, this inflammatory reaction can also lead to bronchial narrowing or stiffening.

When it comes to chronic bronchitis causes, you must be wondering: what “lung irritants” can trigger the inflammation?

To discuss them in detail, let’s proceed with the modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors for chronic bronchitis.

chronic bronchitis causes

Modifiable Risk Factors

The following modifiable risk factors will answer the question, what lung irritants can cause chronic bronchitis?

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette smoking is the main risk factor in chronic bronchitis. In fact, up to 90% of chronic bronchitis patients are smokers or people who used to smoke.

Living with a Smoker

Frequent exposure to second-hand smoke is also one of the causes of chronic bronchitis in adults.

For this reason, people who are living with a smoker or those who are in regular contact with someone who’s smoking are also at risk.

Living in an Area with High Levels of Pollution

People who reside in areas with high levels of pollution are also at a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis. But what types of pollution are we referring to?

Reports suggest that pollution can come from vehicle fumes, factory smoke, industrial chemicals, and even waste materials.

Working in Places with Chemical Inhalants

A few run-ins with lung irritants from time to time may not be a cause of concern, but if your work involves chemical inhalants, the risk of developing chronic bronchitis increases.

The following jobs may put a person at a higher risk for chronic bronchitis:

  • Working solid fuel such as coal and wood. Usually, people use solid fuel to produce heat or cook.
  • Salon stylist, because of their regular exposure to hairsprays.
  • House painter; depending on the type of paint, paint fumes can also be lung irritants.

chronic bronchitis causes

The Non-modifiable Risk Factors

After discussing the modifiable chronic bronchitis causes, let’s enumerate the non-modifiable factors.

For one, age is a common risk factor. According to reports, the symptoms of chronic bronchitis usually manifest when the patients are at least 40 years old.

Genes sometimes come into play, too.

People who have alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, a genetic condition, are found to be more at risk of chronic bronchitis. Smoker patients who have relatives with a history of COPD also have heightened risk.


Besides knowing about the chronic bronchitis causes, you may also be interested to learn about prevention.

Generally, the best way to prevent chronic bronchitis is to take care of the modifiable risk factors. That means:

  • Quitting or avoiding smoking
  • Making strict rules like “no smoking at home”
  • Staying away from lung irritants, or at least, reducing exposure to them.

Understanding Lung Diseases and How They Affect Respiration

Key Takeaways

Chronic bronchitis is not curable. The best that the patient can do is to manage its symptoms. For this reason, understanding and possibly eliminating the modifiable chronic bronchitis causes is the best course of action to prevent this condition from developing.

Learn more about Bronchitis here

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Was this article helpful for you ?
happy unhappy

You might also like

Gamot sa Trangkaso – The Most Common OTC Medicines for Flu

When you're suffering from flu, you might need medicines. Here are the different gamot sa trangkaso that could help improve your symptoms.

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Influenza 21/10/2020 . 4 mins read

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is a common respiratory condition that results in productive cough. But what's the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis?

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Bronchitis 19/10/2020 . 4 mins read

The Meaning of Nasal Discharge Colors

What does it mean if you have clear nasal discharge? How about yellow or green? In this article we'll talk about the meaning of nasal discharge colors.

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Other Respiratory Issues 16/10/2020 . 4 mins read

Flu Body Aches but No Fever: Is It Possible?

Is it possible for a person to have flu body aches but no fever? And why do you experience trangkaso body pain when you have the flu?

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Jan Alwyn Batara
Influenza 14/10/2020 . 3 mins read

Recommended for you

copd causes

COPD Causes and Smoking: What You Need to Know

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Jan Alwyn Batara
Published on 23/11/2020 . 4 mins read
what causes emphysema besides smoking

What Causes Emphysema Besides Smoking?

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Published on 11/11/2020 . 3 mins read
trangkaso symptoms

Common Trangkaso Symptoms You Should Not Ignore

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N.
Published on 03/11/2020 . 3 mins read
obstructive vs restrictive lung disease

Obstructive vs Restrictive Lung Disease

Medically reviewed by Hello Doctor Medical Panel
Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao
Published on 22/10/2020 . 4 mins read