Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis means that the tubes that carry air to the lungs (the bronchial tubes) are inflamed and irritated. When this happens, the tubes swell and produce mucus. This makes you cough.

There are two types of bronchitis:

  • Acute bronchitis usually comes on quickly and gets better after 2 to 3 weeks. Most healthy people who get acute bronchitis get better without any problems.
  • Chronic bronchitis keeps coming back and can last a long time, especially in people who smoke. Chronic bronchitis means you have a cough with mucus most days of the month for 3 months of the year for at least 2 years in a row.

Both children and adults can get acute bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis can be caused by:

  • A virus (in most cases). Often a person gets acute bronchitis after having an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or the flu
  • Bacteria (in rare cases)
  • Breathing in things that irritate the bronchial tubes, such as smoke
  • Inhaling food or vomit into the lungs

The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough that is dry and hacking at first. After a few days, the cough may bring up mucus. You may have a low fever and feel tired.

Acute bronchitis symptoms usually start 3 or 4 days after an upper respiratory tract infection. Most people get better in 2 to 3 weeks. But some people continue to have a cough for more than 4 weeks.

Pneumonia can have symptoms like acute bronchitis. Because pneumonia can be serious, it is important to know the differences between the two illnesses. Symptoms of pneumonia can include a high fever, shaking chills, and shortness of breath. Doctors may take a chest X-ray to make sure that you don’t have pneumonia or another lung problem.

Most people can treat symptoms of acute bronchitis at home. Treatments include:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use an over-the-counter cough medicine with an expectorant if your doctor recommends it. This can help you bring up mucus when you cough.
  • Suck on cough drops or hard candies to soothe a dry or sore throat. Cough drops won’t stop your cough, but they may make your throat feel better.

Most people don’t need antibiotics for acute bronchitis.

Check with your doctor if you have heart or lung disease, such as heart failure, COPD, or asthma, as you may need additional treatments.