Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These airways are called bronchi. This inflammation causes increased mucus production and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the most common are acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis may also be called a chest cold.
Most symptoms of acute bronchitis last for up to 2 weeks. The cough can last for up to 8 weeks in some people. Chronic bronchitis lasts a long time. It is more common among smokers.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection. This is most often the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection, or by physical or chemical agents that are breathed in. These may include dusts, allergens, and strong fumes, including those from chemical cleaning compounds or tobacco smoke.
Acute bronchitis may come after a common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in people with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. It can be serious in people with lung or heart diseases. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.
The following are the most common symptoms of acute bronchitis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of acute bronchitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
Healthcare providers can often diagnose acute bronchitis by taking a medical history and doing physical exam. Tests may be done to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. Any of these tests may be used to help confirm a diagnosis:
Acute bronchitis is usually mild and does not cause complications. The symptoms often resolve on their own and lung function goes back to normal.
In most cases, antibiotics are not needed to treat acute bronchitis. That’s because most of the infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. If it has progressed to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be necessary.
Treatment is aimed at treating the symptoms, and may include:
Avoid antihistamines because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.
Acute bronchitis can worsen and progress to chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. If this happens, a different treatment may be necessary.
Acute bronchitis can’t always be prevented. However, there are shots you can get to prevent its complications, such as pneumonia.
Check with your healthcare provider about getting the flu and pneumococcal shots. Getting a flu shot every year can help prevent both the flu and pneumonia. The pneumococcal shot can protect you from a common form of bacterial pneumonia.
Most often, bronchitis resolves on its own. If your symptoms worsen or don’t get better over time, call your healthcare provider.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider: