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Quick Facts

Acute Bronchitis

By

The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Jul 2021| Content last modified Jul 2021
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What is acute bronchitis?

Your bronchi are the tubes that carry air into your lungs. Bronchitis is when the bronchi become swollen and irritated.

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 Asthma Asthma is a condition in which the breathing passages (airways) in your lungs get narrow. When the airways are narrow, it's hard to breathe. Breathing often makes a squeaky musical sound called... read more Asthma , you may start wheezing.

Inside the Lungs and Airways

Inside the Lungs and Airways

Understanding Bronchitis

Bronchoscopy

What causes acute bronchitis?

What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?

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:

  • Runny nose

  • Sore throat

  • Tiredness, chills, sore muscles

  • Slight fever (100° to 101° F or 37.5° to 38° C)

These symptoms usually last 3 to 5 days.

Then you get a cough. The cough:

  • Usually doesn't produce mucus at first

  • Later may produce clear, yellow, green, or sometimes even bloody mucus

  • May make your chest hurt when you cough or breathe deeply

  • Often lasts 2 to 3 weeks and sometimes even longer

You may also have wheezing, even if you don't have asthma.

How can doctors tell if I have acute bronchitis?

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 Pneumonia Pneumonia is an infection deep in your lungs. The infection involves the small air sacs in your lungs (alveoli). Pneumonia is different from infection of the air passages (bronchi) in your lungs... read more is infection of your lung tissue and is more dangerous than bronchitis. Doctors may do a chest x-ray Plain X-Rays A plain x-ray is an imaging test that takes a picture of the inside of your body. It uses a low dose of x-ray radiation. X-rays show body parts according to how dense (solid) they are. Doctors... read more Plain X-Rays to look for pneumonia if you:

  • Are older

  • Are very sick

  • Have a high fever and rapid breathing

  • Have chronic lung disease

How is acute bronchitis treated?

Your doctor will treat your symptoms:

  • If you have fever or chest pain from coughing, you can take over-the-counter medicines such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen

  • If you have wheezing, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler (a little spray bottle with medicine that you breathe in)

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.

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