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Bronchitis - acute

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.

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:

  • Chest x-ray, if your provider suspects pneumonia
  • Pulse oximetry, a painless test that helps determine the amount of oxygen in your blood by using a device placed on the end of your finger

Treatment

Most people DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis. The infection will almost always go away on its own within 1 week. Doing these things may help you feel better:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have asthma or another chronic lung condition, use your inhaler.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen if you have a fever. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Breathe moist air by using a humidifier or steaming up the bathroom.

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:

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.
  • Wash your hands (and your children's hands) often to avoid spreading viruses and other germs.

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:

  • Have a cough on most days, or have a cough that keeps returning
  • Are coughing up blood
  • Have a high fever or shaking chills
  • Have a low-grade fever for 3 or more days
  • Have thick, yellow-green mucus, especially if it has a bad smell
  • Feel short of breath or have chest pain
  • Have a chronic illness, like heart or lung disease

References

Davids S, Schapira RM. The respiratory system: acute bronchitis. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 6.

Ferri FF. Acute bronchitis. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2016. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:section 1.

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

    • Lungs

      Lungs - illustration

      The major features of the lungs include the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. The alveoli are the microscopic blood vessel-lined sacks in which oxygen and carbon dioxide gas are exchanged.

      Lungs

      illustration

    • Bronchitis

      Bronchitis - illustration

      Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages to the lungs. It generally follows a viral respiratory infection. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and fatigue.

      Bronchitis

      illustration

    • Cause of Acute Bronchitis

      Cause of Acute Bronchitis - illustration

      Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the part of the respiratory system that leads into the lungs. Acute bronchitis has a sudden onset and usually appears after a respiratory infection, such as a cold, and can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. The infection inflames the bronchial tubes, which causes symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, wheezing, and the production of thick yellow mucus. If acute bronchitis occurs because of a bacterial infection antibiotics are given for the treatment. Otherwise if the infection is viral medications can only be given to alleviate the symptoms. Although acute bronchitis is relatively common, some people are more prone to it than others.

      Cause of Acute Bronchitis

      illustration

    • Cause of chronic bronchitis

      Cause of chronic bronchitis - illustration

      Chronic bronchitis is most frequently caused by long term irritation of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is considered to be chronic if symptoms continue for three months or longer. Bronchitis caused by allergies can also be classified as chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is caused most often by exposure to airborne pollutants such as cigarette smoke, excessive dust in the air, or chemicals. The bronchial lining becomes inflamed and the constant exposure to such pollutants begins to cause damage in the bronchioles (the smaller airways in the lungs). Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include shortness of breath or wheezing, chest pain, and chronic productive cough.

      Cause of chronic bronchitis

      illustration

    • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)

      COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) - illustration

      Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to chronic lung disorders that result in blocked air flow in the lungs. The two main COPD disorders are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the most common causes of respiratory failure. Emphysema occurs when the walls between the lung's air sacs become weakened and collapse. Damage from COPD is usually permanent and irreversible.

      COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)

      illustration

      • Lungs

        Lungs - illustration

        The major features of the lungs include the bronchi, the bronchioles and the alveoli. The alveoli are the microscopic blood vessel-lined sacks in which oxygen and carbon dioxide gas are exchanged.

        Lungs

        illustration

      • Bronchitis

        Bronchitis - illustration

        Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages to the lungs. It generally follows a viral respiratory infection. Symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing and fatigue.

        Bronchitis

        illustration

      • Cause of Acute Bronchitis

        Cause of Acute Bronchitis - illustration

        Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the part of the respiratory system that leads into the lungs. Acute bronchitis has a sudden onset and usually appears after a respiratory infection, such as a cold, and can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. The infection inflames the bronchial tubes, which causes symptoms such as fever, cough, sore throat, wheezing, and the production of thick yellow mucus. If acute bronchitis occurs because of a bacterial infection antibiotics are given for the treatment. Otherwise if the infection is viral medications can only be given to alleviate the symptoms. Although acute bronchitis is relatively common, some people are more prone to it than others.

        Cause of Acute Bronchitis

        illustration

      • Cause of chronic bronchitis

        Cause of chronic bronchitis - illustration

        Chronic bronchitis is most frequently caused by long term irritation of the bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is considered to be chronic if symptoms continue for three months or longer. Bronchitis caused by allergies can also be classified as chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is caused most often by exposure to airborne pollutants such as cigarette smoke, excessive dust in the air, or chemicals. The bronchial lining becomes inflamed and the constant exposure to such pollutants begins to cause damage in the bronchioles (the smaller airways in the lungs). Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include shortness of breath or wheezing, chest pain, and chronic productive cough.

        Cause of chronic bronchitis

        illustration

      • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)

        COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder) - illustration

        Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) refers to chronic lung disorders that result in blocked air flow in the lungs. The two main COPD disorders are emphysema and chronic bronchitis, the most common causes of respiratory failure. Emphysema occurs when the walls between the lung's air sacs become weakened and collapse. Damage from COPD is usually permanent and irreversible.

        COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder)

        illustration

      Review Date: 1/30/2016

      Reviewed By: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, MHS, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

      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- A.D.A.M., a business unit of Ebix, Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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