Can poor air quality cause Bronchitis?

The below article talks about poor air quality and how it causes bronchitis, how it can be managed, how to reduce the negative impacts of poor air quality on your respiratory system, how it can be treated at home, some measures that can be taken to avoid bronchitis, and some frequently asked questions. 

Can poor air quality lead to bronchitis? 

Yes, exposure to poor air quality can cause bronchitis in adults and kids. The impacts it could have on the respiratory system depend on geographical and genetic factors, coupled with the individual’s history of health. Chronic bronchitis can cause Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is a group of respiratory issues and diseases that cause distress to the respiratory system and leads to breathing problems. 

The best way to avoid bronchitis is to decrease exposure to smoking, second-hand smoke, toxic pollutants, chemical fumes, etc. Safety measures like surgical masks, N95 masks, aid-purifiers, etc. can be used to scrub the air and produce clean and fresh air. If the symptoms persist and aggravate, it is best to consult a medical professional for an official diagnosis or opinion. 

What is bronchitis? 

Bronchitis refers to the inflammation and swelling of the tissue that lines the bronchial tubes. These tubes are responsible for carrying air to and from your lungs. The swelling of the bronchial tubes causes an excess mucus production, to fight the intruding bacteria, virus, or pollutant that has triggered bronchitis; causing smaller openings for the air to flow through, making it harder to breathe.  

Individuals affected with bronchitis often present with symptoms of chest congestion, cough that brings up thickened and discolored mucus, tiredness, breathlessness, fever or chills, and respiratory discomfort (John Hopkins, n.d.). 

Bronchitis could be acute or chronic depending on the severity of the symptoms and the number of times the person has a bronchitis attack. Bronchitis can be caused by the same virus that brings the flu, bacteria, or poor air quality. 

Acute Bronchitis 

Acute bronchitis is commonly referred to as a chest cold and is quite common amongst people with exposure to poor air quality. Acute bronchitis usually clears up within a week to 10 days, with the cough taking longer to heal. Symptoms of acute bronchitis include chest congestion, cough, breathlessness, shortness of breath, wheezing or whistling sounds while you breath, body aches, fever and chills, tiredness, runny and stuffy nose, and sore throat.   

With the COVID-19 Pandemic, you must be careful if any new symptoms develop as it could be COVID-19 and not bronchitis. 

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition that causes constant irritation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes. Repeated attacks of acute bronchitis can lead to chronic bronchitis and might require immediate medical attention as this could be a result of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). 

Chronic bronchitis causes long-term inflammation of the bronchi and individuals affected with this are prone to lung infections and other respiratory difficulties. Chronic bronchitis is different from acute in that it will present with cough with mucus for atleast 3 months in a year, for 2 years in a row; and other respiratory diseases like tuberculosis are ruled out. 

Individuals with chronic bronchitis are said to have COPD and can thus have multiple conditions that can cause problems with their lungs and restrict breathing. The 2 most common conditions under COPD are emphysema and chronic bronchitis. 

Chronic bronchitis has been found to cause disabilities, frequent severe respiratory infections, narrowing of the bronchi, and difficulties in breathing in the long term. Other lesser-seen signs of chronic bronchitis may also include bluish fingernails/ lips/ skin, wheezing or whistling sounds while breathing, chest discomfort, etc. (John Hopkins, n.d.). 

Risk factors that trigger bronchitis 

Smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke 

People who smoke or those who are constantly exposed to others who smoke are in danger of having bronchitis. Long-term exposure to cigarette smoke amongst various populations around the world has been proven to find a high number of cases of acute and chronic bronchitis. Studies have shown that male smokers are diagnosed with a higher number of chronic bronchitis cases, in comparison to female smokers (Robinson J., 2020).

Breathing in toxic air pollutants 

With increasing quantities of air pollution globally from varying sources, the air around us is contaminated with various chemical fumes, vehicular emissions, chemical particles, toxic pollutants, particulate matters, etc. that can cause irritation with respiratory systems and thus cause respiratory issues, and at the top acute bronchitis that leads to chronic bronchitis as a part of other COPD (Doiron D., 2021). 

Poor immunity

This is more common amongst individuals with compromised immune systems such as people diagnosed with other chronic conditions, senior citizens, children who are still developing their immunity, etc. A common cold amongst such individuals could turn to bronchitis due to their weaker immune systems that may already be fighting other intruding viruses, bacteria, or external disease-causing pollutants. 

Gastric Reflux

Repeated attacks of severe heartburns can cause irritation and inflammation of the lung tissues and the airways, due to which it may be more vulnerable to being affected by bronchitis. 

History of lung-diseases 

Family history of lung diseases or previously diagnosed respiratory issues like Asthma, Emphysema, Pulmonary Fibrosis, Sinusitis, Tuberculosis, Respiratory infections, etc. in the individuals can mean that the person is vulnerable to be affected by chronic bronchitis, along with other COPDs. 

How to avoid bronchitis? 

There are various steps you can take to avoid bronchitis, some of them are as follows:

  • Quit smoking and avoid standing near people who do, to avoid exposure to second-hand smoke.
  • Ban indoor smoking and smoking in public places, second-hand smoke can be extremely dangerous.
  • Wash your hands frequently to avoid the transmission of viruses, bacteria, pollutants, etc. that may cause bronchitis or other diseases. 
  • Consult a medical professional to receive supplements or inhalers that will open your airways and clear out the mucus from your bronchial tubes.
  • Ensure that you enforce wearing safety measures like an N95 mask, to avoid the intrusion of these pollutants into your body. 
  • Use an air purifier indoors which will help immensely to scrub the toxic particles from the air and produce cleaner and fresher air for those in the room. This is an excellent measure, especially for those who may have compromised immune systems or are diagnosed with other chronic conditions. 
  • Consult the air pollution projections in your country every day, and plan your outdoor activities depending on when the emissions are the lowest.
  • Avoid spending long hours in traffic or public around smokers, large amounts of vehicular smoke, burning waste, etc. 
  • Since bronchitis could also be triggered by the flu virus, getting the flu vaccines could decrease your risks of being affected by bronchitis.
  • Get tested periodically to measure your lung capacity and practice breathing exercises to improve circulation and lung capacity. 
  • For severe cases, you could attend pulmonary rehab which will support you and train you on ways to live with breathing problems. 

Treating bronchitis at home

Usually, acute bronchitis will go away on its own within a couple of weeks, if the symptoms persist, meeting a medical professional is the best solution. Medications, coupled with the following practices will help you get back on your feet:

  • Drinking a lot of water will help thin out your mucus and makes it easier to get it out of your system when you cough. Eight to twelve glasses of water are recommended per day for the best results. 
  • Over-the-counter medicines like aspirin or ibuprofen can help with the body fever and chills, and any other body pain or discomfort you may have. Over the couSacramentoSacramentonter cough syrups may help relieve the cough symptoms and provide some relief for chest discomfort. 
  • Using a humidifier or exposure to steam can be a great way to loosen the mucus that blocks your airways and get normal breathing in its original capacity.
  • Using an oximeter to check the oxygen levels in your blood periodically can help you recognize when the oxygen saturation levels are low in your bloodstream. 

Frequently Asked Questions 

How is bronchitis diagnosed?

If you experience any of the above symptoms, it is best to consult a medical professional for an official diagnosis. They may conduct the following tests or examinations to reach the diagnosis of acute or chronic bronchitis, as well as to rule out other respiratory diseases:

  • Check the oxygen levels in your blood using an oximeter.
  • A lung function test using a spirometer or a peak flow monitor that checks if you have emphysema, where the air sacs in your lungs may be compromised, asthma, compromised lung functioning or capacity, etc. 
  • A chest X-ray to check for pneumonia or any other irregularities that could lead to severe bouts of coughs. 
  • Blood tests measure levels of infection or amounts of carbon dioxide and oxygen in your blood. 
  • Clinically your mucus to rule out other tangent diseases such as whooping cough that can be often misinterpreted as chronic bronchitis. The mucus is usually sampled through a nasal swab. 

Who is most susceptible to the effects of poor air quality?

The most susceptible population from the effects of poor air quality are (Spare the air, n.d.):

  • Individuals diagnosed with heart diseases, coronary diseases, or other heart conditions
  • Individuals with compromised respiratory systems, such as those diagnosed with asthma, tuberculosis, COPD, etc.
  • Pregnant individuals
  • Outdoor workers 
  • Senior citizens 
  • Kids under the age of 14 
  • Athletes who train vigorously outdoors 

When do you need to see a doctor?

It is quite often that we put off meeting a medical professional. However, it is best to keep note of your symptoms and meet your doctor when your cough lasts upwards of 3 weeks, you’re not able to sleep due to respiratory difficulties, you have persistent higher body temperatures, discolored mucus, bloody mucus, wheezing, or shortness of breath, skin discoloration, chest congestion or any other form of chest discomfort, foul taste in your mouth, unexplained sudden weight loss, etc. 

Other FAQs about Air Quality that you may be interested in.

Does wearing a mask help during poor air quality?

How accurate is BreezoMeter?

How to improve the air quality in your basement?


Doiron D., Bourbeau J., Hoogh K. D., & Hansell A. L. (2021). Ambient air pollution exposure and chronic bronchitis in the Lifelines cohort. Thorax. 76. pp. 772 – 779.  

John Hopkins. (n.d.). Chronic Bronchitis. John Hopkins Medicine. Viewed on 11-26-2021. 

Mayo Clinic. (n.d.). Bronchitis. Viewed on 11-26-2021. 

Robinson J. (2020, April 02). Bronchitis. Lung Disease and Respiratory Health. WebMD. Viewed on 11-26-2021.  

Spare the air. (n.d.). Air Quality Information for the Sacremento Region. Sacremento Metropolitan, El Dorado, Feather, River, Placer, and Yolo-Solano Air Districts. Viewed on 11-26-2021.  

Leave a Comment