11/29/2012 12:47 pm ET

Bronchitis: What Is The Condition George H.W. Bush Was Hospitalized For?

FILE - In a Tuesday, June 12, 2012 file photo, former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife former first lady Barbara Bush
FILE - In a Tuesday, June 12, 2012 file photo, former President George H.W. Bush, and his wife former first lady Barbara Bush, arrive for the premiere of HBO's new documentary on his life near the family compound in Kennebunkport, Maine. Former President Bush has been hospitalized for about a week in Houston for treatment of a lingering cough. Bushᅡメs chief of staff, Jean Becker, says the 88-year-old former president is being treated for bronchitis at Houstonᅡメs Methodist Hospital and is expected to be released by the weekend. He was admitted Friday, Nov. 23, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

George H.W. Bush, the 88-year-old former president, has been hospitalized for six days because of bronchitis, according to news reports.

Bush's spokesman told CNN that the former president, who also has Parkinson's disease, was hospitalized because of a "lingering cough," but that he may be able to go home by the weekend.

Bronchitis is also known as a "chest cold," and occurs when there is swelling and inflammation of the lungs' bronchial tubes. It can then cause coughing and can even lead to chest pain and shortness of breath, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Mucus also forms inside the bronchial tubes, which makes breathing difficult, the American Academy of Family Physicians reported.

Bronchitis can either be acute or chronic -- acute bronchitis usually doesn't last much longer than two weeks, though some people may experience symptoms for as many as two months. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is defined as bronchitis symptoms that is experienced for three or more months out of a year, for at least two years in a row, the CDC said. Chronic bronchitis is especially common in smokers. It is not known whether Bush was diagnosed with acute or chronic bronchitis.

Bronchitis can be dangerous because it can sometimes lead to pneumonia, the Mayo Clinic reported. And if you continue to have multiple episodes of bronchitis, it can even be a sign of a more serious condition like tuberculosis or cystic fibrosis.

Certain groups of people are more susceptible to it, such as smokers, and people who may have weaker immune systems like kids and older adults, according to the Mayo Clinic. Certain fumes from chemicals, or irritants that result from grain or textile work, can also trigger bronchitis.

Bronchitis is a viral illness, so antibiotics usually don't work to treat it, the Mayo Clinic reported. However, there are some therapies that can ease symptoms, such as rest and pain medications, or measures to relieve the cough like cough medication, breathing in moist air, and getting plenty of fluids.

Earlier his year, 93-year-old evangelist Billy Graham was also hospitalized for bronchitis, Slate reported. Like Bush, Graham also has Parkinson's disease.