Industrial bronchitis

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Industrial bronchitis is swelling (inflammation) of the large airways of the lungs that occurs in some people who work around certain dusts, fumes, smoke, or other substances.

Alternative Names

Occupational bronchitis


Exposure to dusts, fumes, strong acids, and other chemicals in the air causes this type of bronchitis. Smoking may also contribute. Employers are required to have copies of material safety data sheets available in the workplace.

You may be at risk if you are exposed to dusts that contain:

  • Asbestos
  • Coal
  • Cotton
  • Flax
  • Latex
  • Metals
  • Silica
  • Talc
  • Toluene diisocyanate
  • Western red cedar


Exams and Tests

The health care provider will listen to your lungs using a stethoscope. Wheezing sounds or crackles may be heard.

Tests include:


The purpose of treatment is to reduce the irritation.

Getting more air into the workplace or wearing masks to filter out the offending dust particles may help. Some people may need to be taken out of the workplace.

Some cases of industrial bronchitis go away without treatment. Other times, a person may need inhaled anti-inflammatory medications. If you are at risk or have experienced this problem and you smoke, stop smoking.

Helpful measures include:

  • Breathing humidified air
  • Increasing fluid intake
  • Resting

Outlook (Prognosis)

The outcome may be good as long as you can stop being exposed to the irritant. Chronic disability from industrial bronchitis is rare.

Possible Complications

Continued exposure to irritating gases, fumes, or other substances can lead to permanent lung damage.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

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


Control dust in industrial settings by wearing face masks and protective clothing, and by treating textiles. Stop smoking if you are at risk.

Get early screening by a doctor if you are exposed to chemicals that can cause this condition.

If you think a chemical you work with is affecting your breathing, ask your employer for a copy of the Material Safety Data Sheet. Bring it with you to your health care provider.


Chan-Yeung M, Malo JL. Asthma in the workplace and occupational asthma. In: Mason RJ, Broaddus VC, Martin TR, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2010:chap 64.

Tarlo SM. Occupational lung disease. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 93.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 12/2/2014
  • Andrew Schriber, MD, FCCP, Specialist in Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Virtua Memorial Hospital, Mount Holly, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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