Chronic Bronchitis | Treatment


Can medicine treat chronic bronchitis?

Yes. Your doctor may prescribe a medicine called a bronchodilator to treat your chronic bronchitis. This medicine dilates (or opens) the airways in your lungs and helps you breathe better.

This medicine is usually inhaled (breathed in) rather than taken as a pill. An inhaler is the device used to get the medicine into your lungs. It's important to use your inhaler the right way, so you get the most from the medicine. Your doctor will show you how to use your inhaler.

If you have severe shortness of breath, your doctor may also prescribe medicine (such as theophylline) for you to take in pill form.

If your symptoms don't get better with these medicines, your doctor may prescribe steroids. You can take steroids either with an inhaler or in pill form.

Will antibiotics help chronic bronchitis?

In general, antibiotics cannot help chronic bronchitis. Antibiotics may be needed if you get a lung infection along with your chronic bronchitis. If you have a lung infection, you may cough up more mucus. This mucus might be yellow or dark green. You also may have a fever and your shortness of breath may get worse.

What about oxygen therapy?

Because of the damage from chronic bronchitis, your lungs may not be able to get enough oxygen into your body. Your doctor may prescribe oxygen if your chronic bronchitis is severe and medicine doesn't help you feel better. If your doctor prescribes oxygen for you, be sure to use it day and night to get the most benefit from it. Oxygen can help you breathe better and live longer.

What else can I do to help my lungs?

Exercising regularly can strengthen the muscles that help you breathe. Try to exercise at least 3 times a week. Start by exercising slowly and for just a little while. Then slowly increase the time you exercise each day and how fast you exercise. For example, you might begin exercising by walking slowly for 15 minutes 3 times a week. Then, as you get in better shape, you can increase your walking speed. You can also increase the length of time you walk to 20 minutes, then 25 minutes, then 30 minutes. Ask your doctor for help creating an exercise plan that's right for you.

An exercise program called pulmonary rehabilitation may help you improve your breathing. Pulmonary rehabilitation is often given by a respiratory therapist (a health care worker who knows about lung treatments). Your doctor may refer you to the pulmonary rehabilitation program at your local hospital.

A breathing method called "pursed-lip breathing" may also help you. To do this, you take a deep breath and then breathe out slowly through your mouth while you hold your lips as if you're going to kiss someone. Pursed-lip breathing slows down the fast breathing that often comes with chronic bronchitis. It may help you feel better.


Chronic Bronchitis: Primary Care Management by JM Heath, MD; R Mongia, MD (American Family Physician May 15, 1998,

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 02/14
Created: 05/98