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Chronic Bronchitis: Causes and Risk Factors

Medically reviewed by Jezreel Esguerra, MD · General Practitioner

Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 28, 2022

    Chronic Bronchitis: Causes and Risk Factors

    Chronic bronchitis is a 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.

    What Does it Mean to Have Chronic Bronchitis?

    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

    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 a 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

    Let’s now discuss 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.


    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.

    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.

    Medically reviewed by

    Jezreel Esguerra, MD

    General Practitioner

    Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. · Updated Dec 28, 2022

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