Chronic Bronchitis Causes

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition whereby the airways that transport air in and out of the lungs are permanently inflamed and narrowed. The narrowing of the airways can occur as a result of damage to the lung tissue, mucus blocking part of the airway, and the lining of the airways becoming inflamed1. Unlike asthma, where there are recurrent symptoms, chronic bronchitis is persistent, and treatment which involves the use of inhaled medication helps to open the airways partially. Asthma symptoms occur when there is a certain trigger, such as pollen. As the symptoms of chronic bronchitis and asthma are similar, it is vital to keep track of how frequently your symptoms arise and whether or not you are coughing up mucus. 

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis

The main symptoms of this illness can be one or multiple of the following1.2:  

  • Coughing daily 
  • A cough that produces phlegm (mucus)
  • Breathlessness 
  • Wheezing 
  • Shortness of breath during day-to-day activities 

If you seem to have any of these symptoms persistently, it is highly advisable to make an appointment with your GP in order to formulate a treatment plan. 

Causes of chronic bronchitis

It can be argued that the causes of chronic bronchitis are largely similar to that of general respiratory problems. Some of the causes for this condition can include: 


In a study conducted in 2012, it was deduced that smoking was the primary risk factor for 34.6% of the participants, who then later went on to develop chronic bronchitis.2 Smoking can be linearly correlated to chronic bronchitis and has a high incidence rate. Cigarette smoke contains an array of toxic chemicals (carcinogens) which are absorbed in the alveoli (tiny air sacs present in the lungs) at varying rates according to the nature of the tobacco and the volume of puffs.In essence, the more smoke that is inhaled, the higher the rate of carcinogens damaging the linings of the alveoli that transport oxygen in and carbon dioxide out. Over time, the body’s coping mechanism to the mass amount of carcinogens is to cause the glands of the bronchi (tubes that direct airflow to the lungs) to enlarge or inflame in order to allow more air to be transported.3

Exposure to second-hand smoke

Second-hand smoke (passive smoking) is caused by inhaling the chemicals released through smoking. In essence, this causes damage to the bronchi to the same extent as smoking over a long duration. Constant exposure to these chemical irritants can increase your risk of developing serious lung conditions. 


Air pollutants can be both outdoors, notably in diesel, and indoors through tobacco smoking or irritants in the workplace. In a research conducted in 2016, a correlation was drawn between air pollutants provoking the lungs to further inflame and damage.4 The study suggests that people with chronic bronchitis should be aware of the air quality in their area and take extra steps, such as limiting time spent outdoors when the air quality is poor.4

Upper respiratory tract infection

If upper respiratory tract infection (cold, laryngitis, sinusitis) is left untreated, it can lead to complications such as chronic bronchitis and respiratory failure. In order to manage this condition, antibiotics should be taken in accordance with a doctor’s prescription in order to reduce the risk of developing bronchitis.

Tips on how to quit smoking

Smoking is an addictive behaviour that usually has a long duration and can be difficult to manage once started. Foremost, in order to quit smoking, you must come to an understanding that this will benefit both your physical and mental health in the long run.

The tips on how to quit smoking are the following:

  1. Discuss with friends and family your plan to quit smoking and how they can support you. 
  2. Book an appointment with a GP/doctor. 
  3. Download the ‘Smoke-free app’ that gives tailored support and advice for a four-week period 5
  4. Formulate a treatment plan. This is usually Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) and can help overcome the urge to smoke through patches, gums, or inhalers. There is an array of varying NRTs to try, and you should find the one that works best for you, although it is suggested to use a combination of two different forms (e.g., the patch and the gums).5
  5.  Keep a diary as to when you feel the urge to smoke and how you are progressing each day.5
  6. Remind yourself why you want to quit smoking.5
  7. Be aware that quitting can come with withdrawal symptoms. These withdrawal symptoms should be discussed with you during the initial appointment with your GP.Typical withdrawal symptoms can include an increased craving to smoke as well as an increased level of anxiety.6

These tips should proceed after a consultation with a health professional as it is an addiction, and it is recommended that medical advice should be sought out in order to fully quit smoking. The process of quitting can also affect your mental health, and it is, therefore, essential to seek out support groups in your local area. 


Chronic bronchitis is a condition which affects the lung’s airways. The primary symptom is a persistent cough that produces mucus and breathlessness. Some of the causes can be environmental due to pollution levels and habits such as passive and active smoking. There are various methods to plan the quitting process.  Whether you have symptoms of chronic bronchitis or would like to quit smoking, it is advised to seek the correct medical advice. 


  1. Chronic bronchitis - British Lung Foundation [Internet]. Asthma + Lung UK. 2022 [cited 28 August 2022]. Available from: 
  2. Kim V, Criner GJ. Chronic Bronchitis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [Internet]. 2013 Feb [cited 28 August 2022]; 187(3):228-237. Available from:
  3. Benjamin R. Exposure to Tobacco Smoke Causes Immediate Damage: A Report of the Surgeon General. Public Health Reports [Internet]. 2011 [cited 28 August 2022];126(2):158-159. Available from: 
  4. Jiang XQ, Mei XD, Feng D. Air pollution and chronic airway diseases: what should people know and do? Journal of Thoracic Disease [online]. 2016 Jan [cited 2022 August 30]; 8(1):E31-40. Available at: 
  5. How can I stop smoking? - British Lung Foundation [Internet]. Asthma + Lung UK. 2015 [cited 29 August 2022]. Available from: 
  6. Shiffman SM, Jarvik ME. Smoking withdrawal symptoms in two weeks of abstinence. Psychopharmacology [Internet]. 1976 Jan 1 [cited 29 August 2022];50(1):35-9. Available from: 
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.

Get our health newsletter

Get daily health and wellness advice from our medical team.
Your privacy is important to us. Any information you provide to this website may be placed by us on our servers. If you do not agree do not provide the information.

Rebecca Dion

Master of Public Health - MPH Student, Lund University, Sweden

Interested in health promotion for children and young adults. I have been working and studying in the multicultural environments of London , Paris and more recently in Lund.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked * presents all health information in line with our terms and conditions. It is essential to understand that the medical information available on our platform is not intended to substitute the relationship between a patient and their physician or doctor, as well as any medical guidance they offer. Always consult with a healthcare professional before making any decisions based on the information found on our website.
Klarity is a citizen-centric health data management platform that enables citizens to securely access, control and share their own health data. Klarity Health Library aims to provide clear and evidence-based health and wellness related informative articles. 
Klarity / Managed Self Ltd
Alum House
5 Alum Chine Road
Westbourne Bournemouth BH4 8DT
VAT Number: 362 5758 74
Company Number: 10696687

Phone Number:

 +44 20 3239 9818