Health Library

Acute bronchitis
Site Map

Acute 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.

Images

Lungs
Bronchitis
Cause of Acute Bronchitis
Cause of chronic bronchitis
COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)

I Would Like to Learn About:

Causes

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.

Symptoms

Some symptoms of acute bronchitis are:

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 be more short of breath.

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will listen to the breathing sounds in your lungs with a stethoscope. Your breathing may sound abnormal or rough.

Tests may include:

Treatment

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:

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:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Except for the cough, symptoms usually go away in 7 to 10 days if you do not have a lung disorder.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if you:

Related Information

Respiratory
Cough
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
Allergies - overview
Asthma
Cor pulmonale
COPD - what to ask your doctor
Using oxygen at home - what to ask your doctor

References

Walsh EE. Acute bronchitis. In: Bennett JE, Dolin R, Blaser MJ, eds. Mandell, Douglas and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases, Updated Edition. 8th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2015:chap 66.

Wenzel RP. Acute bronchitis and tracheitis. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 96.

BACK TO TOP

Review Date: 2/18/2018  

Reviewed By: Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation ( www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- 2018 A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

adam.com

A.D.A.M. content is best viewed in IE9 or above, Firefox and Google Chrome browser.