What Is Acute Bronchitis?

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Coughing is the most common symptom of bronchitis. drbimages/E+/Getty Images

Illness

Acute Bronchitis

Another type of bronchitis is chronic bronchitis, but that is typically associated with long term illnesses such as COPD. This article focuses only on acute bronchitis, which means it only causes symptoms for a relatively short period of time. 

Season

Year round, more common during cold and flu season (winter and early spring)

Who is Affected

People of all ages can get bronchitis.

It is most common:

  • Following a cold or the flu
  • Smokers
  • Older adults
  • People with weakened immune systems
  • People with COPD

Causes

Acute bronchitis can be caused by many things. Viral bronchitis is the most common. 

  • Most commonly by viruses, such influenza (flu) or those that cause the common cold
  • Occasionally bacteria
  • Rarely chemical agents, dust or fumes

How it is Spread

Bronchitis can be spread by coming into contact with an infected person, but it more commonly occurs following a cold or the flu that develops into bronchitis. The virus attacks the lining of the bronchial tree in the lungs causing infection, swelling and excess mucous production. This irritation leads to coughing, which can persist for weeks. 

What to Expect

  • Cough - may start dry and painful then progress to productive with yellow or green mucous
  • Sore throat
  • Pain in the chest
  • Chest congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Chills
  • Body aches

The cough from acute bronchitis can last for several weeks or months.

However, if the cough persists and it changes in any way or you are concerned that it may not be bronchitis, you should see your healthcare provider.

Is There a Cure?

Bronchitis typically goes away on it's own without specific treatment. Viruses are not killed by antibiotics, so they are rarely useful in treating bronchitis.

They may be used if your health care provider believes your bronchitis is caused by bacteria.

The typical treatment for bronchitis consists of:

  • Rest
  • Increased fluid intake
  • Medications, including pain relievers, anti-inflammatory medications and occasionally antibiotics
  • If you have wheezing, you may need an inhaler to help open up the airways
  • If you smoke, you should quit. This will help your lungs heal faster.

Because bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, antibiotics are rarely helpful, even if the mucous is green or yellow. They typically won't help you get better any faster unless your healthcare provider is sure the bronchitis is caused by a bacteria. It's important not to push your doctor to prescribe antibiotics. Taking them when they aren't necessary leads to antibiotic resistance and can cause unnecessary side effects. 

Your health care provider will know best how to treat you based on your symptoms and health history. If you have questions about your own health, seek personal medical attention.

The information provided here should be used only as a guide, not as specific medical advice. 

Source:

"Acute Bronchitis." American Academy of Family Physicians. Sep 08. 13 Jan 09

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