Occupational bronchitis

Alternative names
Industrial bronchitis

Industrial bronchitis is an inflammation of the large airways of the lungs of workers who are exposed to dusts, fumes, mists, fogs, or smoke.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Exposure to dusts, fumes, strong acids, and other airborne chemicals causes this type of bronchitis. Smoking is a contributing factor. A risk factor is occupational exposure to dusts such as asbestos, talc, silica, cotton, flax, and coal.

Associated diseases include occupational asthma, chronic bronchitis, coal worker’s pneumoconiosis, silicosis, and asbestosis.


  • Shortness of breath  
  • Continuous cough producing sputum  
  • Wheezing

Signs and tests
A physical examination reveals wheezing.

Tests include the following:

  • Pulmonary function tests  
  • Chest X-ray

The objective of treatment is to avoid the causative irritant. Acute cases run their course and require no further treatment. If you are at risk or have experienced this problem and you smoke, stop smoking.

Supportive measures include rest, increased fluid intake, and breathing humidified air to aid in the removal of secretions from the airways.

Expectations (prognosis)
The probable outcome is good as long as exposure to the irritant can be eliminated. Chronic disability from industrial bronchitis is rare.

The complications vary and are those of associated diseases. Occasionally industrial bronchitis progresses to permanent respiratory impairment such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or pulmonary fibrosis.

Calling your health care provider
Call your health care provider if you are regularly exposed to dusts, fumes, strong acids, or other chemicals that can affect the lungs and symptoms of bronchitis develop.

Dust control in industrial settings (face masks, protective clothing, treatment of textiles) is essential. Stop smoking if you are at risk. Early screening by a physician is advisable for those exposed to chemicals that can cause this condition.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 3, 2012
by Gevorg A. Poghosian, Ph.D.

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