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Bronchitis is a fairly common condition that often follows a cold or influenza (the flu). It occurs when the lining of the bronchi, which are the tubes that carry air to the lungs, becomes inflamed and irritated. This causes an irritating and persistent cough that in the early stages produces little or no phlegm.
As it progresses, the cough starts to produce mucus that can range in colour from yellowish to brown and green. Other symptoms include pain in the chest area (particularly when coughing), wheezing, fever and difficulty breathing. Symptoms can last up to three weeks, but the cough can linger for some time. This form of bronchitis is generally described as acute bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition, usually caused by smoking. People with chronic bronchitis have a cough with sputum most days for months at a time.
Bronchitis is generally not a significant condition, but it can be serious for some people, including the elderly, smokers and chronically ill people with heart or lung diseases. In some patients the infection can lead to more serious conditions such as pneumonia.
Dr Kathy Kramer, GP, Coffs Harbour, NSW