What is acute bronchitis?
Your bronchi are the tubes that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become swollen and irritated.
Acute bronchitis starts suddenly, usually over a few days. Acute bronchitis differs from chronic bronchitis. In chronic bronchitis, your airways have been inflamed (swollen) for years. Chronic bronchitis occurs in people with lung problems such as COPD Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) COPD is a disease in your lungs that makes it hard to breathe. It's hard to push air out of your lungs. Difficulty pushing air out is called chronic airflow obstruction. Smoking cigarettes is... read more or cystic fibrosis Cystic Fibrosis Cystic fibrosis is a disease people are born with. It makes body fluids thick and sticky. These sticky fluids clog up the lungs, digestive system, and many other organs. Children have many health... read more .
Your airways swell and make mucus, which makes you cough more
Your cough can last for several weeks
You’re more likely to get acute bronchitis in the winter
If you're a healthy person without any lung disease, acute bronchitis isn't dangerous. If you have lung disease, acute bronchitis may make your lung symptoms worse. For example, if you have asthma Asthma Asthma is a condition in which the breathing passages (airways) in your lungs get narrow. When the airways are narrow, it's hard to breathe. Breathing often makes a squeaky musical sound called... read more , you may start wheezing.
Inside the Lungs and Airways
What causes acute bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is nearly always caused by a virus, such as the common cold Common Cold The common cold is a viral infection. It's one of the most common illnesses people get. Colds spread easily from person to person, especially within the first 2 days of symptoms Symptoms include... read more or flu (influenza Influenza (Flu) Influenza, often called the flu, is a viral infection that affects your lungs and airways. Flu symptoms are a little bit like the common cold but are much more severe. The flu spreads easily... read more ) virus. It can also be caused by certain bacteria.
What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?
If you have acute bronchitis, your symptoms may last from a few days to a few weeks or more.
At first, you may have cold or flu symptoms such as:
Tiredness, chills, sore muscles
Slight fever (100° to 101° F or 37.5° to 38° C)
These symptoms usually last 3 to 5 days.
Then you get a cough. The cough:
Usually doesn't produce mucus at first
Later may produce clear, yellow, green, or sometimes even bloody mucus
May make your chest hurt when you cough or breathe deeply
Often lasts 2 to 3 weeks and sometimes even longer
You may also have wheezing, even if you don't have asthma.
How can doctors tell if I have acute bronchitis?
Doctors can usually tell if you have acute bronchitis just by asking about your symptoms and examining your lungs. However, the symptoms of acute bronchitis can be similar to mild pneumonia. Pneumonia Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more is infection of your lung tissue and is more dangerous than bronchitis. Doctors may do a chest x-ray Plain X-Rays A plain x-ray is an imaging test that takes a picture of the inside of your body. It uses a low dose of x-ray radiation. X-rays show body parts according to how dense (solid) they are. Doctors... read more to look for pneumonia if you:
Are very sick
Have a high fever and rapid breathing
Have chronic lung disease
How is acute bronchitis treated?
Your doctor will treat your symptoms:
If you have fever or chest pain from coughing, you can take over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
If you have wheezing, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler (a little spray bottle with medicine that you breathe in)
Cough medicines almost never make you feel better, but some can help a little at night if your cough keeps you from sleeping.
Doctors used to think antibiotics would help if your mucus was thick and yellow. Now they know antibiotics don't work in acute bronchitis except in the rare cases when it is caused by bacteria.