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Acute bronchitis is a clinical diagnosis for an acute cough, which may or may not be productive of mucus or sputum. It occurs when the tubes (bronchi) within the lungs become inflamed and may be caused by viruses or bacteria. Symptoms generally last for two weeks but the associated cough can last for up to eight weeks. Recently, there has been controversy over the term acute bronchitis as it cover... more

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A.D.A.M. Medical Encyclopedia.

Bronchitis - acute

Last reviewed: July 15, 2012.

Acute bronchitis is swelling and inflammation of the main air passages to the lungs. This swelling narrows the airways, making it harder to breathe and causing other symptoms, such as a cough. Acute means the symptoms have only been present for a short time.

Bronchitis

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

Acute bronchitis almost always follows a cold or flu-like infection. The infection is caused by a virus. At first, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat. Then it spreads to the airways leading to your lungs.

Cause of AcuteBronchitis

Sometimes, bacteria also infect the airways. This is called a secondary infection.

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus most days of the month for at least 3 months.

Cause of chronicbronchitis

Symptoms

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may include:

Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lingers for 1 to 4 weeks.

At times, it may be hard to know whether you have pneumonia or only bronchitis. If you have pneumonia, you are more likely to have a high fever and chills, feel sicker, or feel short of breath.

 

Signs and tests

The health care provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. Abnormal, coarse breathing sounds may be heard.

Lung anatomy

Tests may include:

  • Chest x-ray, if the health care provider suspects pneumonia
  • Pulse oximetry to help determine the amount of oxygen in your blood by using a device placed on the end of your finger

Treatment

Most people DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis. The infection will almost always go away on its own within 1 week. Take the following steps to get relief:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have asthma or another chronic lung condition, use your inhaler (such as albuterol).
  • Rest.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) if you have a fever. DO NOT give aspirin to children
  • Use a humidifier or steam in the bathroom.

Certain medicines that you can buy without a prescription can help break up or loosen mucus. Look for the word "guaifenesin" on the label.

If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways if you are wheezing.

Sometimes, bacteria may also infect the airways along with the virus. If your doctor thinks this has happened, you may be prescribed antibiotics.

Other tips include:

  • DO NOT smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.
  • Wash your hands (and your children's hands) often to avoid spreading viruses and other infections.

Expectations (prognosis)

Symptoms usually go away in 7 to 10 days if you do not have a lung disorder. However, a dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months.

Calling your health care provider

Call your doctor if:

  • You have a cough on most days, or you have a cough that often returns
  • You are coughing up blood
  • You have a high fever or shaking chills
  • You have a low-grade fever for 3 or more days
  • You have thick, greenish mucus, especially if it has a bad smell
  • You feel short of breath or have chest pain
  • You have a chronic illness, like heart or lung disease

References

  1. Walsh EE. Acute bronchitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 7th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2009:chap 61.
  2. Ferri FF. Acute bronchitis. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2013. 1st ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby Elsevier; 2012:section 1.

Review Date: 7/15/2012.

Reviewed by: Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.

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Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

A.D.A.M., Inc. is accredited by URAC, also known as the American Accreditation HealthCare Commission (www.urac.org). URAC's accreditation program is an independent audit to verify that A.D.A.M. follows rigorous standards of quality and accountability. A.D.A.M. is among the first to achieve this important distinction for online health information and services. Learn more about A.D.A.M.'s editorial policy, editorial process and privacy policy. A.D.A.M. is also a founding member of Hi-Ethics and subscribes to the principles of the Health on the Net Foundation (www.hon.ch).

The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only — they do not constitute endorsementscof those other sites. © 1997–2011 A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.

Copyright © 2013, A.D.A.M., Inc.

What works?

  • Chinese medicinal herbs for acute bronchitisChinese medicinal herbs for acute bronchitis
    We assessed the therapeutic effect of traditional Chinese herbal medicines commonly used in China for acute bronchitis. There is no evidence from randomised controlled trials (RCTs) to demonstrate that Chinese medicinal herbs are efficacious in treating acute bronchitis.
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Figures

  • Bronchitis.
    Cause of acute bronchitis.
    Cause of chronic bronchitis.
    Lung anatomy.

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