What is acute bronchitis?
Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to
your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing
and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually
occurs due to a viral chest infection. Several types of viruses can cause it.
Approximately 5 percent
of adults report having acute bronchitis annually, and acute bronchitis is the ninth
most common reason why adults visit their doctors.
It’s important to distinguish acute bronchitis from chronic
bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually lasts less than 10 days. However, the
coughing can continue for several weeks while the inflammation is clearing.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can last for several weeks and usually
comes back. This is more common in people with asthma or emphysema.
Acute bronchitis could be contagious if the virus that
causes it is contagious.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
The symptoms of acute bronchitis aren’t specific. They mimic
symptoms of other conditions, such as:
- chronic cough
- chronic bronchitis
- postnasal drip
Therefore, acute bronchitis must always be diagnosed by a
Common symptoms of acute bronchitis include:
- a cough, which may continue beyond 10 days and
contain clear or colored mucus
- shortness of breath
- a low-grade fever or a high fever may be an
indication of a secondary infection such as pneumonia
- chest pain
- chest tightness
- a sore throat from persistent coughing
Children with acute bronchitis may experience:
- a runny nose
- back pain
- muscle pain
- a sore throat
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your
- unexplained weight loss
- a deep, barking cough
- difficulty breathing
- chest pain
- a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
- a cough that last more than 10 days
Causes of acute bronchitis
The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a lower
respiratory viral infection. Both the common cold and influenza can lead to
acute bronchitis. In rare cases, the bacterium that causes whooping cough can
also cause acute bronchitis. This bacterium is called Bordetella pertussis.
Risk factors for acute bronchitis
While anyone can develop acute bronchitis, certain risk
factors can make you more likely to get it.
Risk factors for acute bronchitis include:
- inhaling cigarette smoke, including secondhand
- having low resistance to illnesses, which occurs
in older adults, the very young, and those who have otherwise weakened immune
- having gastric reflux
- being frequently exposed to irritants, including
dust or chemical fumes
Older adults and those who are immunocompromised should take
special care to avoid infectious illnesses and adopt preventive measures, like regular
hand-washing, as they’re highly susceptible to developing acute bronchitis.
Diagnosing acute bronchitis
In many cases, acute bronchitis will go away without
treatment. A physical examination may be the only thing your doctor needs to do
to diagnose your condition. During the physical exam, your doctor will listen
to your lungs as you breathe. They’ll also you ask about coughing, at night, whether
your cough produces mucus, or whether you have other problems breathing. They
may also ask about recent colds or viruses.
Blood tests, X-rays, or cultures usually aren’t necessary. However,
if your doctor is uncertain about your diagnosis, they may suggest additional
testing. Tests might also be necessary if your doctor thinks you have a
Treatment of acute bronchitis
You may think you need antibiotics to treat your bronchitis.
However, antibiotics cannot treat viral bronchitis or any viral infection.
Only rarely can prescription medications treat the cause of
viral bronchitis. However, certain home remedies can relieve the symptoms:
- Over-the-counter (OTC) nonsteroidal
anti-inflammatory drugs, such as ibuprofen,
may soothe your sore throat.
- Humidifiers create moisture in the air you
breathe. This can help loosen mucus in your nasal passages and chest, making it
easier to breathe.
- Drinking plenty of liquids, such as water or
tea, can help thin out mucus. This makes it easier to cough it up or blow it
out through your nose.
- Ginger, which can easily be mixed with tea or
hot water, is a natural anti-inflammatory that can relieve irritated and
inflamed bronchial tubes.
- Consuming honey can help soothe your cough.
Honey also soothes your throat and provides antiviral and antibacterial
Although prescriptions are not normally used for acute
bronchitis, talk to your doctor if you are wheezing or having trouble
breathing. They can prescribe inhaled medication to open your airways.
Acute bronchitis in children
Like those who are older and those who have compromised
immune systems, children are also more likely to develop acute bronchitis than
the average adult.
This is partially due to risk factors specific to them,
which may include:
- increased exposure to viruses (they spread
through schools like wildfire, increasing the odds that your child could catch
a cold that could give them acute bronchitis)
- asthma (if your child has asthma, they are more
likely to develop acute bronchitis)
- breathing in debris, including dust
Symptoms that children with acute bronchitis will be likely
to have include:
- a fever
- body aches
- shortness of breath
- soreness or a feeling of tightness in the chest
- a cough, which may bring up white, yellow, or
Acute bronchitis treatment for children may be different
than treatment plans prescribed to adults. Most treatment will be focused on
relieving symptoms the child is experiencing. Treatments include:
for a fever and aches
- increased fluid intake
You shouldn’t give OTC medications to children younger than 6
years old without a doctor’s approval. You shouldn’t give them cough
medications without a doctor’s approval either, as they may not be safe.
Prognosis for people with acute bronchitis
The symptoms of acute bronchitis usually clear up within a
few weeks. Occasionally, secondary infections can make it take longer to heal.
Acute bronchitis rarely has long-term health implications.
Preventing acute bronchitis
When you’re around people with acute bronchitis, avoid
touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. These body parts are very susceptible to
infection. You should also practice good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and
thoroughly, particularly during cold season. This can help you avoid viral
If you’re frequently exposed to dust, chemical fumes, or
other pollution that could increase your change of developing acute bronchitis,
limit exposure as much as possible. Wear a mask if necessary to prevent
Make sure that you’re well-rested, as this can help fight
off infections that can lead to bronchitis.
In addition to these prevention methods, you can also make
several lifestyle changes to prevent bronchitis. These include:
- stopping smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
- eating a healthy diet, which can keep your body
as healthy as possible
- avoiding sharing glasses or eating utensils
- washing your hands consistently before eating or
touching your face
There’s no way to completely prevent acute bronchitis
because it has a variety of causes. You can help decrease your risk by getting the
pneumonia vaccine, PPSV23, and the whooping cough vaccine. Getting a yearly flu
shot can also help prevent acute bronchitis.