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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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When a Cold Becomes Bronchitis

When you catch a cold, does it often turn into bronchitis, which is sometimes called a chest cold? It's important to recognize what's normal and to know when something more serious is going on. Here's what you must know when that nasty cold turns into bronchitis.

Should I Call the Doctor About a Cough?

A cough is a common cold symptom. It's the body's way of getting rid of phlegm or mucus. But if a cough persists after the cold is gone, contact your doctor.

It is helpful to tell your doctor how long you've had the cough. You also should tell the doctor whether any activities or exposures seem to make it worse, if you notice any other different or unusual feelings, and if you cough up mucus.

If you are coughing up thick green or yellow phlegm, or if you are wheezing, running a fever higher than 101 F, having night sweats, or coughing up blood, you need to see a doctor. These may be signs of a more serious illness that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

A persistent cough may be a sign of asthma. Sometimes this condition is called "cough-variant asthma." Triggers for cough-variant asthma include respiratory infections like a cold or flu, dust, cold air, exercise or allergens. Asthma may be responsible for up to 25% of all chronic coughs. Until an asthma attack occurs, you may not realize that your lungs are involved.

What Is Bronchitis or Chest Cold?

Bronchitis -- sometimes referred to as a chest cold -- occurs when the airways in your lungs are inflamed and make too much mucus. There are two basic types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis is more common and usually is caused by a viral infection. Acute bronchitis may also be called a chest cold. Episodes of acute bronchitis can be related to and made worse by smoking. This type of bronchitis is often described as being worse than a regular cold but not as bad as pneumonia.
  • Chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two to three months each year for at least two years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.

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