How Long Does Acute Bronchitis Last?

186450213.jpg
A section of bronchial tube showing bronchitis. Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Acute bronchitis is an inflammation (swelling and redness) of the bronchial tubes - the tubes that carry air to your lungs. It is a common complication of colds, the flu and other upper respiratory infections. Most often it is caused by a virus, just like the illnesses that typically precede it. Occasionally acute bronchitis may be caused by bacteria. Chronic bronchitis is a very different illness characterized by the long term inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes.

How Long Does It Last?

Most cases of acute bronchitis last between 3 and 10 days. However, the cough can linger for several weeks, even after the infection that caused it is gone.

If your cough lasts for more than a month to six weeks after diagnosis, contact your health care provider. If your symptoms improve and then come back worse or different than before, you may have developed another infection and should seek medical attention again. 

Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • Cough - often productive, meaning you cough up mucus
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Low grade fever
  • Shortness of breath

If you think you might have bronchitis, contact your health care provider so you can get an accurate diagnosis and determine which treatment might be best. Most cases of bronchitis do not need to be treated with antibiotics, but if your health care provider determines your is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be prescribed.

 

If your symptoms are much different than this, you may have something other than bronchitis. Pneumonia may cause similar symptoms but typically includes a more painful cough and higher fever. You definitely want to contact your health care provider for a diagnosis if you believe you could have either bronchitis or pneumonia.

 

What To Expect

If you are diagnosed with acute bronchitis, you should expect to have the symptoms listed above for about a week or so, with the cough persisting for several weeks after that. Your doctor most likely will not prescribe antibiotics because bronchitis is typically caused by a virus and antibiotics do not kill viruses. 

Treatment is typically based on symptom relief. Things your health care provider may recommend include:

  • Rest
  • Drinking plenty of fluids. 
  • A humidifier or steam treatments (such as breathing in the steamy air in a bathroom for 10 - 15 minutes) to help moisturize your airways and relieve swelling.
  • If you are wheezing, you may be prescribed an inhaler to open your airway so you can breathe more easily.
  • Medication to relieve cough. If your cough is frequent and persist and interfering with sleep or your daily activities, your doctor may prescribe a cough medication. It is important to use these with caution and talk with your doctor about when and how often to take it. Suppressing your cough can lead to further infections if your body is unable to clear and bring up the mucus in your system. 

    Sources:

    "Acute Bronchitis". MedlinePlus 29 Aug 14. US National Library of Medicine. Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 20 Feb 15. 

    "What Is Bronchitis?". National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. 4 Aug 11. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 20 Feb 15.

    "How Is Bronchitis Treated?" National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. 4 Aug 11. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health. 20 Feb 15.

    Continue Reading