Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways that extend from the windpipe into the lungs (bronchi). The inflammation often causes mucus to develop. This leads to a cough, which is the most common symptom of bronchitis.

ExitCare ImageIn acute bronchitis, the condition usually develops suddenly and goes away over time, usually in a couple weeks. Smoking, allergies, and asthma can make bronchitis worse. Repeated episodes of bronchitis may cause further lung problems.

CAUSES

Acute bronchitis is most often caused by the same virus that causes a cold. The virus can spread from person to person (contagious).

SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS

  • Cough.  

  • Fever.  

  • Coughing up mucus.  

  • Body aches.  

  • Chest congestion.  

  • Chills.  

  • Shortness of breath.  

  • Sore throat.  

DIAGNOSIS

Acute bronchitis is usually diagnosed through a physical exam. Tests, such as chest X-rays, are sometimes done to rule out other conditions.

TREATMENT

Acute bronchitis usually goes away in a couple weeks. Often times, no medical treatment is necessary. Medicines are sometimes given for relief of fever or cough. Antibiotics are usually not needed but may be prescribed in certain situations. In some cases, an inhaler may be recommended to help reduce shortness of breath and control the cough. A cool mist vaporizer may also be used to help thin bronchial secretions and make it easier to clear the chest.

HOME CARE INSTRUCTIONS

  • Get plenty of rest.  

  • Drink enough fluids to keep your urine clear or pale yellow (unless you have a medical condition that requires fluid restriction). Increasing fluids may help thin your secretions and will prevent dehydration.  

  • Only take over-the-counter or prescription medicines as directed by your health care provider.  

  • Avoid smoking and secondhand smoke. Exposure to cigarette smoke or irritating chemicals will make bronchitis worse. If you are a smoker, consider using nicotine gum or skin patches to help control withdrawal symptoms. Quitting smoking will help your lungs heal faster.  

  • Reduce the chances of another bout of acute bronchitis by washing your hands frequently, avoiding people with cold symptoms, and trying not to touch your hands to your mouth, nose, or eyes.  

  • Follow up with your health care provider as directed.  

SEEK MEDICAL CARE IF:

Your symptoms do not improve after 1 week of treatment.

SEEK IMMEDIATE MEDICAL CARE IF:

  • You develop an increased fever or chills.  

  • You have chest pain.  

  • You have severe shortness of breath.

  • You have bloody sputum.  

  • You develop dehydration.

  • You develop fainting.

  • You develop repeated vomiting.

  • You develop a severe headache.

MAKE SURE YOU:

  • Understand these instructions.

  • Will watch your condition.

  • Will get help right away if you are not doing well or get worse.