Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes and lungs. Bronchitis may be caused by a virus, pollutants or bacteria, and may either be acute or chronic. Symptoms for both kinds of bronchitis include a hacking cough with mucus, breathing difficulties, chest pressure, wheezing and possibly a fever. How long bronchitis lasts depends on which type of bronchitis a person has and other factors.
Acute bronchitis usually lasts anywhere from a couple of weeks to a couple of months. Even after the bronchitis goes away, there may be a dry or lingering cough because of airway irritation.
Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed when the condition lasts for 3 months or longer. Chronic bronchitis may last indefinitely or return frequently for years.
Cigarette smoke is a common cause of chronic bronchitis. Continuing to smoke or even breathing second-hand smoke can make the condition worse or make the symptoms last longer. Reactions to chemicals and dust may exacerbate bronchitis symptoms.
Bronchitis may lead to pneumonia, particularly in older individuals. Anyone with bronchitis or bronchitis symptoms for a long period of time should see a doctor to rule out asthma or other complications.
Long-term bronchitis that includes a fever may indicate a bacterial infection. Antibiotics may be prescribed to shorten the length of the illness and relieve symptoms faster.