Inflammation of the air passages in the lungs can lead to bronchitis. A viral infection causes acute bronchitis, and may last for a few days. Coughing, wheezing, sore throat and fever may occur. Chronic or recurring bronchitis results from underlying disorders that develop over time. A chronic cough that produces mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, and swelling of the feet and legs may occur later on, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
About 40 percent of smokers develop chronic bronchitis, notes the University of Maryland. Smokers become more susceptible to pneumonia, bronchitis and emphysema the longer they smoke. Chronic bronchitis can last for several months. Quitting smoking helps people avoid recurring bronchitis. Family members and people who live with smokers have an increased risk of acute and chronic bronchitis, according to MayoClinic.com. Children who live with smokers are more likely to develop bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia and colds. Older adults may also have a greater vulnerability to respiratory problems because of exposure to smoke.
Exposure to Irritants
Frequent or long-term exposure to pollution, dust or other air irritants can lead to recurring bronchitis. Some people have an increased risk of developing occupational bronchitis when working around grains, textiles, ammonia, chlorine, sulfur dioxide, bromine or strong acids, notes MayoClinic.com. The irritants can damage the lungs over time and produce a dry cough in people with bronchitis. Exposure to the irritants increases the chance of developing an infection in the airways. People who smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke may also increase the risk of developing infections because of exposure to other air irritants. Many people can avoid future bouts with bronchitis by staying away from the substances that cause it.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease, known as GERD, causes stomach acid to continually back up into the esophagus, and may lead to chronic cough and bronchitis. Heartburn is the main symptom of GERD. Although many people experience heartburn once in a while, people with GERD suffer from it frequently. Left untreated, the disease can also cause damage to the esophagus from the stomach acid and the coughing that may result. A permanently weakened muscle valve in the esophagus causes GERD. Medication and certain dietary changes that prevent bouts of heartburn help many people. In some cases, surgery can strengthen the muscle valve to prevent heartburn symptoms and other problems that result.