How Does Smoking Cause Chronic Bronchitis?

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Chronic bronchitis is noted by the chronic cough that many smokers have, and this is a result of smoke causing irritation the the tubes that a person breathes through. Find out how air flow gets restricted by cigarette smoke with help from a pulmonary disease research expert in this free video on the effects of smoking.

Part of the Video Series: Effects of Smoking
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Video Transcript

Hello I am Dr. David Burns. I am a Professor Emeritus at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine. Chronic bronchitis is the chronic cough that smokers have. It is by definition a chronic productive cough for three months out of the year, for two years in a row but in reality with most smokers it is a continuous cough and usually is fairly mild and often smokers don't notice that. But what is happening is the cigarette smoke that you inhale into the lung is causing irritation to the tubes that you breath through. That irritation causes those tubes to swell and causes other cells to come in and thicken the walls of those airways. When you do that much like a tube or a pipe that develops concretions inside the pipe the narrower that tube gets the less and less air can flow through the inside of that tube and the more difficulty you have moving the air through so the chronic productive cough is often a hallmark of changes in the upper airway in your trachea and main stem bronchi. Those changes are increased mucous production and increased thickening of those airways and then the more serious change for the development of chronic lung disease occurs in the very small airways that are out close to the part of the lung that actually exchanges gas, the alveoli of the lung where your body brings your blood in contact with the air so that you can absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. Those little tiny airways, airways that are only about 2 millimeters in size or less develop narrowing and inflammation and ultimately some fibrosis and that can lead to a fixed and irreversible problem where you can't get enough air out and that means that you can't get enough air in and you are chronically short of breath which is one of the symptoms of chronic obstructive lung disease.

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