Learn About Bronchitis

What is the definition of Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is swelling and inflamed tissue in the main passages that carry air to the lungs. This swelling narrows the airways, which makes it harder to breathe. Other symptoms of bronchitis are a cough and coughing up mucus. Acute means the symptoms have been present only for a short time.

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What are the causes of Bronchitis?

When acute bronchitis occurs, it almost always comes after having a cold or flu-like illness. The bronchitis infection is caused by a virus. At first, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat. Then it spreads to the airways that lead to your lungs.

Sometimes, bacteria also infect your airways. This is more common in people with COPD.

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus on most days for at least 3 months.

Causes of chronic bronchitis
What are the symptoms of Bronchitis?

Some symptoms of acute bronchitis are:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Cough that produces mucus -- the mucus may be clear or yellow-green
  • Fatigue
  • Fever -- usually low-grade
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with activity
  • Wheezing, in people with asthma

Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lasts for 1 to 4 weeks.

Sometimes it can be hard to know if you have pneumonia or bronchitis. If you have pneumonia, you are more likely to have a high fever and chills, feel sicker, or feel more short of breath.

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What are the current treatments for Bronchitis?

Most people DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis caused by a virus. The infection will almost always go away on its own within 1 week. Doing these things may help you feel better:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have asthma or another chronic lung condition, use your inhaler.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen if you have a fever. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Breathe moist air by using a humidifier or steaming up the bathroom.

Certain medicines that you can buy without a prescription can help break up or loosen mucus. Look for the word "guaifenesin" on the label. Ask the pharmacist for help finding it.

If your symptoms do not improve or if you are wheezing, your provider may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways.

If your provider thinks you also have bacteria in your airways, they may prescribe antibiotics. This medicine will only get rid of bacteria, not viruses.

Your provider may also prescribe corticosteroid medicine to reduce swelling in your lungs.

If you have the flu and it is caught in the first 48 hours after getting sick, your provider might also prescribe antiviral medicine.

Other tips include:

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.
  • Wash your hands (and your children's hands) often to avoid spreading viruses and other germs.
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What is the outlook (prognosis) for Bronchitis?

Except for the cough, symptoms usually go away in 7 to 10 days if you do not have a lung disorder. Coughing often lasts for 2 to 3 weeks.

When should I contact a medical professional for Bronchitis?

Contact your provider if you:

  • Have a cough on most days, or have a cough that keeps returning
  • Are coughing up blood
  • Have a high fever or shaking chills
  • Have a low-grade fever for 3 or more days
  • Have thick, yellow-green mucus, especially if it has a bad smell
  • Feel short of breath or have chest pain
  • Have a chronic illness, like heart or lung disease
Causes of acute bronchitis
Lung anatomy
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)
What are the latest Bronchitis Clinical Trials?
Automation Oxygen Flow Titration in Spontaneously Breathing Infants Less Than One Year of Age During a First Episode of Bronchiolitis

Summary: The objective of this study is to assess the efficacy of the FreeO2 device in shortening the hospital length of stay during a first episode of hypoxemic bronchiolitis in infants less than 1 year of age. FreeO2Bronchio study is a multicenter, prospective, controlled, randomized, open-label study.

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Saline Serum Versus Hypertonic Serum With Respiratory Physiotherapy in a Recurrent Wheezing Patient: a Multicenter Clinical Trial

Summary: Bronchiolitis (BQ) is an acute viral infection of the lower respiratory tract that affects the bronchioles of babies younger than 24 months of age. Respiratory physiotherapy (FTR) appears as a complementary treatment measure in clinical guidelines and consensus on the management of BQ. Nebulization with 3% hypertonic serum before the FTR session induces an osmotic flow of water in the mucus, which...

What are the Latest Advances for Bronchitis?
Evaluation of anifrolumab safety in systemic lupus erythematosus: A meta-analysis and systematic review.
Effect of azithromycin on bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome in posttransplant recipients: A systematic review and meta-analysis.
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Efficacy and Safety of N-Acetylcysteine for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease and Chronic Bronchitis.
Who are the sources who wrote this article ?

Published Date: January 17, 2022
Published By: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

What are the references for this article ?

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Chest cold (acute bronchitis). www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/community/for-patients/common-illnesses/bronchitis.html. Updated July 1, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2022.

Cherry JD. Acute bronchitis. In: Cherry JD, Harrison GJ, Kaplan SL, Steinbach WJ, Hotez PJ, eds. Feigin and Cherry's Textbook Of Pediatric Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2019:chap 19.

Walsh EE. Acute bronchitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 65.

Wenzel RP. Acute bronchitis and tracheitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 26th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2020:chap 90.