Will Chronic Bronchitis Go Away If I Quit Smoking?

  • 1st Revision: Tan Jit Yih
  • 2nd Revision: Avantika Pandey [Linkedin]
  • 3rd Revision: Richard Stephens [Linkedin]

Chronic bronchitis is commonly known as the “smokers cough” due to its common occurrence in those with a long history of smoking. If you’ve been struggling with chronic bronchitis and have been considering quitting smoking, you may wonder if this will reverse the condition.

Chronic bronchitis is an incurable lifelong condition, so smoking cessation will not cure the condition. However, this is still a very treatable condition and quitting smoking is the most important method of controlling your symptoms as well as playing a major role long-term in overall lung health. To learn more about the benefits of smoking cessation in chronic bronchitis, read on.

Understanding chronic bronchitis

Bronchitis refers to conditions where the airways in the lungs (the bronchial tubes) become inflamed, usually in response to an irritant. The irritation causes mucus overproduction by mucus-secreting glands, resulting in a productive cough.1 In Chronic Bronchitis, long-term damage has occurred (scarring), so the combination of inflammation and scarring causes damage to the mucociliary escalator, the process whereby millions of tiny hair-like projections called cilia act in concert to move mucus and debris out of the lungs via the airway. 1 If this is impaired this causes your lung's ability to remove excess mucus and irritants less efficiently, leading to a chronic cough. Over time this can cause the narrowing of the airways making it more difficult to breathe. The combination of chronic bronchitis with airway narrowing leads to a condition called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and it is estimated 74% of patients with COPD have chronic bronchitis.2

Common causes

The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is tobacco smoking, and patients typically have a long history of smoking. This differs from acute bronchitis where viral infections such as the common cold (Rhinoviruses) and influenza are typically the cause.3 However, tobacco smoking is not the only cause and chronic bronchitis can occur due to:

  • Occupational Exposure – Farming, mining, and textile manufacturing have been linked with an increased risk of developing chronic bronchitis. It is thought that this is due to long-term exposure to lung irritants such as allergens and dust2
  • Air Pollution – Poor air quality has been linked with an increased risk of bronchitis symptoms for a very long time4
  • Reflux – Gastric reflux has been associated with the development of chronic bronchitis and is thought to be due to acid entering the lungs during episodes of reflux5
  • Cannabis smoking – There have been many reported cases where long-term cannabis smokers have developed chronic bronchitis.6 However, research is still limited due to the legality of cannabis in different nations
  • Second-hand smoke – Even if you are not a smoker, your risk of developing Chronic Bronchitis is increased if you are constantly exposed to cigarette fumes7


  • Chronic cough – Chronic bronchitis is defined as a persistent productive cough for 3 months of the year for two consecutive years1
  • Wheezing – If the mucus is causing an obstruction, you may find you make a high-pitched breathing sound called a wheeze
  • Difficulty breathing – As the disease progresses it may be more difficult to breathe and carry out normal daily tasks
  • Frequent chest infections – Chronic bronchitis makes you more susceptible to chest infections


You will need to visit your GP who will ask you about your symptoms, medical history and smoking history. They will then conduct an examination where they will listen to your chest using a stethoscope. You may have to undergo a test called spirometry. Spirometry is a test that gives healthcare providers information about your general lung health by looking at how much air you can inhale and exhale, by looking for what is known as your FEV1/FVC ratio. FEV1 is a measurement of how much air you breathe out in the first second of breathing out as hard as you can, whereas FVC is a measurement of total lung capacity. If the ratio is less than 0.7 this will confirm a diagnosis of COPD (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence).8

If you have an infection, you might be asked to give a sputum culture so the correct antibiotics are given to you if the cause is bacterial. You may also need to undergo a chest x-ray to provide further information about your lung health and if the doctor suspects there may be another cause of your symptoms such as lung cancer.

Treatment and prevention

  • The most important treatment or prevention is quitting smoking, this will improve bronchitis symptoms, make you less likely to get as many infections and slow the progression of the disease
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation is a series of exercises designed to help ease your breathing
  • Bronchodilators are medications which relax the muscles in your airways, allowing them to expand and making it easier for you to breathe
  • Oxygen therapy in the event you are not getting enough oxygen
  • Steroids may be given to you in the event that you have an exacerbation (flare-up)
  • Antibiotics may also be given if there is another lung infection alongside chronic bronchitis

Will chronic bronchitis go away if I quit smoking?

This depends on what is meant by going away. Chronic bronchitis is not a curable disease, so it will not go away once you have quit smoking.  However, quitting smoking will help prevent further damage to your lungs while also improving your symptoms. It’s been consistently found that symptoms of chronic bronchitis are much more prevalent in those who continued smoking than in ex-smokers.9

How long does chronic bronchitis last after you quit smoking?

How much improvement is seen depends on each individual; however, one study showed improvements in coughing symptoms for those who quit or reduced their smoking within 12 weeks.10 Therefore you might see benefits and improvements to your cough fairly quickly after you quit smoking.

Other benefits of quitting smoking

  • Reduced risk of lung cancer
  • Reduced risk of cancers of the mouth, tongue, salivary glands and throat  
  • Reduced risk of strokes
  • Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Reduced risk of gum disease
  • Improves reproductive health
  • Improvements in your immune system 

When To Seek Medical Attention

If you have chronic bronchitis you should seek medical attention if you experience symptoms that might indicate an exacerbation such as:11

  • A fever
  • Sudden increased difficulty in breathing
  • You cough up blood-coloured phlegm
  • You have a general feeling that you are unwell
  • You find you are suddenly more confused


Overall, while chronic bronchitis is not a curable condition, smoking cessation is a very important step in managing the symptoms and preventing the disease from progressing further. Besides improving your symptoms, there are many other benefits of smoking cessation and it should be strongly considered.


  1. Kim V, Criner GJ. Chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. American journal of respiratory and critical care medicine. 2013;187(3):228-37. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23204254/
  2. Dotan Y, So JY, Kim V. Chronic Bronchitis: Where Are We Now? Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (Miami, Fla). 2019;6(2):178-92. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6596437/
  3. Walsh EE. Acute Bronchitis: Mandell, Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 2015:806-809.e1. doi: 10.1016/B978-1-4557-4801-3.00066-7. Epub 2014 Available from:  Oct 31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7152497/
  4. Doiron D, Bourbeau J, de Hoogh K, Hansell AL. Ambient air pollution exposure and chronic bronchitis in the Lifelines cohort. Thorax. 2021;76(8):772. Available from: https://thorax.bmj.com/content/76/8/772
  5. Lee AL, Goldstein RS. Gastroesophageal reflux disease in COPD: links and risks. International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 2015;10:1935-49. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26392769/
  6. Ribeiro L, Ind PW. Marijuana and the lung: hysteria or cause for concern? Breathe (Sheffield, England). 2018;14(3):196-205. Available from:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30186517/
  7. Flexeder C, Zock J-P, Jarvis D, Verlato G, Olivieri M, Benke G, et al. Second-hand smoke exposure in adulthood and lower respiratory health during 20 year follow up in the European Community Respiratory Health Survey. Respiratory Research. 2019;20(1):33. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6376659/
  8. NICE. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease in over 16s: diagnosis and management 2018 [cited 2022 December 23]. Available from: https://www.nice.org.uk/guidance/ng115/chapter/recommendations#diagnosing-copd.
  9. Abu Hassan H, Abd Aziz N, Hassan Y, Hassan F. Does the duration of smoking cessation have an impact on hospital admission and health-related quality of life amongst COPD patients? International journal of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. 2014;9:493-8. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/24868154/
  10. Cibella F, Campagna D, Caponnetto P, Amaradio Maria D, Caruso M, Russo C, et al. Lung function and respiratory symptoms in a randomized smoking cessation trial of electronic cigarettes. Clinical Science. 2016;130(21):1929-37. Available from:  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27543458/
  11. NICE. Scenario: Acute exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease 2021 [updated 2021; cited 2022 23/12/2022]. Available from: https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/chronic-obstructive-pulmonary-disease/management/acute-exacerbation/#when-to-admit.
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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Jeandy Mibanzo-Ilamu

Master of Research Biology of Cancer - MRes University of Liverpool

Jeandy is a final year medical student which has allowed him to acquire strong clinical knowledge and familiarity with general health and wellbeing.His master's degree focused on the Biology of Cancer, a keen area of interest and allowed him to develop a lot of the skills he uses in writing his articles.

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