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 or cystic fibrosis.
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, you may start wheezing.
Acute bronchitis is nearly always caused by a virus, such as the common cold or flu (influenza) virus. It can also be caused by certain bacteria.
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:
These symptoms usually last 3 to 5 days.
Then you get a cough. The cough:
You may also have wheezing, even if you don't have asthma.
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 is infection of your lung tissue and is more dangerous than bronchitis. Doctors may do a chest x-ray to look for pneumonia if you:
Your doctor will treat your symptoms:
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.