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    What Is Bronchitis?

    A cold or the flu runs its course in a couple weeks, if you’re lucky. After that, you’re back to normal. But sometimes you may get bronchitis, too.

    That’s when your bronchial tubes, which carry air to your lungs, get infected and swollen. You end up with a nagging cough and a lot more mucus.

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    You can get bronchitis in other ways, too, and there are actually two types of it:

    • Acute bronchitis: This is the more common one. Symptoms last for a few weeks, but it doesn’t usually cause any problems past that.
    • Chronic bronchitis: This one is more serious, in that it keeps coming back or doesn’t go away at all. It’s one of the conditions that makes up what's called chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

    This article focuses on acute bronchitis.

    What Causes It?

    Most often, the same viruses that give you a cold or the flu also cause bronchitis. Sometimes, though, bacteria are to blame.

    In both cases, as your body fights off the germs, your bronchial tubes swell and make more mucus. That means you have smaller openings for air to flow, which can make it harder to breathe.

    If any of these things describe your situation, you have a bigger chance of getting bronchitis:

    • You have a weaker immune system. This is sometimes the case for older adults and people with ongoing diseases, as well as for babies and young children. Even a cold can make it more likely since your body’s already busy fighting off those germs.
    • You smoke or live with a smoker.
    • You have heartburn (also called gastric reflux or GERD), which can cause stomach acids to get into your bronchial tubes.
    • You work around substances that bother your lungs, such as chemical fumes or dust. (Examples: coal mining, working around farm animals).

    What Are the Symptoms?

    You may have various problems with breathing, such as:

    • Chest congestion, where your chest feels full or clogged
    • A cough that may bring up a lot of mucus that’s clear, white, yellow, or green
    • Shortness of breath
    • A wheezing or a whistling sound when you breathe
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