Acute bronchitis is typically caused by a virus such as one that causes colds or the flu, explains Mayo Clinic. These viruses can be transmitted by sick individuals, contaminated surfaces or contaminated food. Chronic bronchitis is caused by an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, typically brought on by smoking cigarettes.
Chronic bronchitis can also be triggered or made worse by dust, air pollution and toxic gases in the environment, according to Mayo Clinic. People who smoke or live with smokers, have a compromised immune system, are exposed to irritants on the job or suffer from gastric reflux are at the highest risk for developing bronchitis.
Both chronic and acute bronchitis have similar symptoms, including a cough, the production of mucus, fatigue, shortness of breath, fever or chills and chest discomfort, notes Mayo Clinic. Because acute bronchitis is a viral infection, antibiotics are not typically used to treat the condition. Avoiding lung irritants such as cigarette smoke, strong chemical cleaners and paint, using a humidifier and wearing a face mask when outdoors in cool temperatures can help to prevent bronchitis. Additionally, getting an annual flu shot and practicing regular hand washing can also help lower the risk of developing bronchitis.