Can Bronchitis Kill You?


What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a condition caused by inflammation of the lining of bronchial tubes, which transports air to and from the lungs. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic in nature.⁴

Acute bronchitis is a common side effect of a cold or other respiratory illness. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious illness, is identified by a persistent irritation or inflammation of the bronchial tube lining, which is commonly induced by smoking.

Acute bronchitis, often known as a chest cold, normally goes away in a week to ten days with no long-term consequences, though the cough can remain for weeks. If you get bronchitis frequently, you could develop chronic bronchitis, which requires medical intervention. This could result in another condition of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Causes and risk factors

Acute bronchitis is frequently caused by the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. When people cough, the infections transmit through the air or personal touch (such as on unwashed hands).⁴ Acute bronchitis can also be caused by tobacco smoking, air pollution, dust, vapours, and fumes. Bacteria can potentially cause acute bronchitis in rare cases.¹ As antibiotics do not work against viruses, they are ineffective in most cases of bronchitis.

The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes. Polluted air, dust, and harmful toxic substances in the environment or at the workplace can all exacerbate the problem.

Bronchitis is caused by several  factors,⁴ including:

  • Cigarette smoke. People who smoke cigarettes or cohabit with someone who smokes have an increased risk of acute and chronic bronchitis.
  • Low resistance. This could be the outcome of another acute sickness, such as a cold or a persistent illness that weakens your immune system. Such infection is more dangerous to older people, infants, and small children.
  • Exposure to toxic gases at the workplace. If the person works with specific lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or is exposed to chemical fumes, they are more likely to develop bronchitis.
  • Gastric reflux. Severe heartburn on a regular basis might irritate your throat and make you more susceptible to bronchitis.


Acute bronchitis might be accompanied by cold symptoms such as a slight headache or body aches. While these symptoms normally go away within a week, you may have a persistent cough for several weeks. On the other hand, the cough in chronic bronchitis lasts for at least three months and occurs on a regular basis for at least two years. Cough and other symptoms are likely to worsen at times in case of chronic conditions, such that the person could have an acute infection in addition to chronic bronchitis at that time.⁴ Most common symptoms for either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis are as follows: 

  • Cough
  • Mucus (sputum) production, which is clear, white, yellowish-grey, or green in colour, with blood streaks on rare occasions.
  • Fatigue or tiredness
  • Mild fever and chills
  • Breathlessness and chest discomfort


It might be difficult to tell the difference between bronchitis and a typical cold during the first few days of an illness. A physical exam is often carried out by the physician where a stethoscope is placed on your lungs to listen as you breathe.³ Your doctor may recommend the following tests in some cases:

  • X-ray of the chest. A chest X-ray can help diagnose pneumonia or another ailment that could be causing your cough. This is especially crucial if you have previously smoked or now do.
  • Sputum examinations. The mucus that comes up from your lungs during coughing is called sputum. It can be tested to see whether you have any ailments that antibiotics could help with. Sputum can also be checked for allergy symptoms.
  • Pulmonary function test. This test is carried out by blowing into a spirometer which measures how much air your lungs can retain and how quickly you can get the air out of them. This test looks for asthma or emphysema symptoms.


The majority of acute bronchitis cases improve without medication within a few weeks.  In the meantime,  it is essential that you stay hydrated and get enough rest.  Bronchitis symptoms can continue for weeks or months in some circumstances, as explained earlier in the case of a chronic condition.  Although there is no cure for chronic bronchitis, various lifestyle adjustments, such as eating a well-balanced diet, doing regular moderate exercise, and not smoking, might help alleviate symptoms.2


Bronchodilators and steroids are medications that "open up" the airways and are available as inhalers or tablets.  Mucolytic medications lead to thinning of mucus in the lungs, making coughing easier.2

Antibiotics are ineffective because most episodes of bronchitis are caused by viral infections. A doctor would prescribe antibiotics to alleviate the symptoms only if they believe you have a bacterial illness. The following medications are used to relieve symptoms.3

  • Cough medicine. Cough suppressants may be taken during bedtime if your cough prevents you from sleeping.
  • Other medicines. In case of allergies, asthma, or COPD, the doctor may prescribe an inhaler and other drugs for inflammation and widen blocked pulmonary passageways.


Pulmonary rehabilitation — a breathing exercise program wherein a respiratory therapist teaches you techniques of breathing more freely and increasing the capacity to exercise — may be beneficial to you if you have been suspected of chronic bronchitis.³

Complications of bronchitis

How serious is bronchitis?

Bronchitis symptoms should clear up or improve within two weeks in most cases. If it doesn't, you might need to seek medical advice. If your cough does not improve after a few months, it could be a symptom of something more serious. Bronchitis should not be confused with asthma, especially if you wheeze at night or after physical activity. As asthma can lead to death, you should definitely have your doctor do certain breathing tests to keep your mind at ease.⁵ 

Bronchitis may not be dangerous to your health if it persists in the acute stage. Acute bronchitis will usually clear up in 10-15 days, or 3 weeks at the most. When bronchitis proceeds to the chronic stage, the bacteria starts infecting the lungs, causing trouble. In some circumstances, this sickness might linger for months and even become incurable.

Older persons over the age of 60 are more susceptible to this incurable ailment, which drugs can only assist them to improve rather than cure. Coughing causes older patients to become weak and damaged. Chronic bronchitis can make it difficult to work or even complete ordinary household duties.⁶

Workplace exposures can induce a variety of lung ailments, including some that are quite dangerous - such as cancer and a condition of chronic bronchitis, often known as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is often deadly. On the other hand, while a single episode of bronchitis is typically not a cause for concern, in some people it can develop into pneumonia.⁶

Untreated bronchitis

Coughing for a long time causes scarring, which creates excess mucus and causes the bronchi to become thick. The lungs become scarred as long as air passage is restricted. Scarred tissue provides an ideal environment for viruses, bacteria, and infections to thrive. You are unlikely to get chronic bronchitis if you disregard your health, thereby causing damage to your lungs. If you're having difficulties breathing, your feet are swollen, and you're coughing blood, you should see a doctor right away to be treated for any potentially dangerous respiratory infections.⁵


Pneumonia is the most common consequence of bronchitis. Bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, which is a lung infection that can affect both or one of your lungs. When an infection progresses further into the lungs, the tiny air sacs inside the lungs fill up with fluid. Bronchitis causes pneumonia in about 1 in every 20 cases.⁸

There are three forms of pneumonia: bacterial, viral, and mycoplasmal. Fever with chills, chest aches, and a cough with green, rust, or yellow mucus production are all symptoms of bacterial pneumonia. However, because you will have a fever, headache, and a dry cough, it is easy to confuse viral pneumonia for the flu. People have physical aches, have difficulty breathing, and their lips may turn blue within a few hours. Mycoplasma pneumonia develops over a period of days to weeks.⁵ 

Can bronchitis lead to death? 

If you have acute bronchitis, it is unlikely that it would kill you because, as previously stated, the body tends to help itself get rid of the infection over a few weeks. If the infection is caused by bacteria and is not treated, it might lead to serious problems. Both situations will result in chronic bronchitis if not treated.⁷

Chronic bronchitis patients who do not receive therapy often develop emphysema, a lung condition in which the air sacs inside the lungs get compromised. Bronchitis can also lead to pneumonia, which is a life-threatening condition. The location where pneumonia and bronchitis develop differs. Bronchitis affects the bronchi, whereas pneumonia affects the lungs. Because pneumonia is life-threatening, you should not take your cold or flu symptoms lightly. They can turn into bronchitis, which can turn into pneumonia. You should be familiar enough with your body to determine the optimal time to visit the doctor.⁸

According to statistics, roughly 5% of these instances result in pneumonia.7 When the infection has progressed far into the lungs, this is what happens. After that, the infection will cause the air sacs to fill with fluid.

Older persons, small children, and people with other conditions are more likely to develop these problems. Individuals with a weakened immune system are particularly vulnerable. These issues might occur in people who are regularly exposed to respiratory system irritants and pollution. So, can bronchitis kill you? Because of the complications, the answer is yes.⁷

When should I contact my doctor?

Taking plenty of rest, using non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), and staying hydrated are all effective home treatments for acute bronchitis. However, when your symptoms are severe or unusual, you should visit a doctor. Such symptoms include if your cough is severe or lasts longer than three weeks, you're becoming more breathless, you've had recurrent bouts of bronchitis, or you've had a high temperature for more than three days - this could be a sign of flu or a more serious condition like pneumonia, in cases if you are coughing up blood-streaked mucus, or if you have a heart or lung problem like asthma, heart failure, or emphysema. ²


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tube lining that comes in two forms: acute and chronic. If you have acute bronchitis, which is the most common type of bronchitis, you may be able to recover in 10-15 days or 3 weeks at most. A doctor's prescribed medication and care should help you combat acute bronchitis effectively.

If your bronchial tubes are infected with bacteria, you will be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis. In such cases, the doctor will prescribe medications and a healthy lifestyle to help you develop effective immunization against chronic bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis can also be cured using natural and home remedies. Bronchitis can be cured by quitting smoking, drinking alcohol, inhaling vapour, drinking honey and herbal teas, chewing basil leaves, getting adequate rest, and so on.

Bronchitis is a disease that is growing increasingly widespread worldwide. It used to mostly afflict youngsters and the elderly, but currently, some cases involve people who aren't part of that demographic. As a result, many individuals are fascinated about it and wonder, "Can bronchitis kill you?" We have found out that there are very rare chances of this happening, so bronchitis won't directly kill the affected individuals. However, the complications that arise from bronchitis are death-prone. The scarring it can induce on your lungs and airways, can make you more prone to infections, and make the area too weak to protect your body. This may result in pneumonia, which is the top cause of death in children under the age of five worldwide. Patients with a weakened immune system, insufficient vaccination, an unhealthy lifestyle, or inappropriate treatment may succumb to pneumonia infections. If the patient is not treated with the utmost care by a qualified doctor, the condition will worsen and become potentially fatal. Though you may get an infection as a result of bronchitis and die as a result, it is unlikely to state bronchitis as the cause of death.

As a result, respiratory illnesses, particularly coughs, should never be treated lightly because they can induce scarring in the airways and lungs. You should also be aware of the signs of bronchitis and pneumonia to avoid your own and your loved ones' deaths. 


  1. Acute Bronchitis. Accessed 14 May 2022.
  2. “Bronchitis.” Nhs.Uk, 17 Oct. 2017,
  3. Bronchitis - Diagnosis and Treatment - Mayo Clinic. Accessed 14 May 2022.
  4. “Bronchitis - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, Accessed 14 May 2022.
  5. Can Bronchitis Kill You: A Clearer Understanding of the Disease. Accessed 14 May 2022.
  6. “Can You Die from Bronchitis If Not Treated?” RipPain, Accessed 14 May 2022.
  7. Can You Die from Bronchitis: The Facts. Accessed 14 May 2022.
  8. “Pneumonia.” Nhs.Uk, 23 Oct. 2017,
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Sunita Baro

Master's degree - Public Health, Newcastle University, England
Sunita is passionate about serving a large community and eliminating health inequities around the globe.
Experienced as a Medical Laboratory Assistant, Healthcare Science Associate and Healthcare Assistant.

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