What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis occurs when bronchial tubes inside your lungs become inflamed, making it difficult to breathe. Acute bronchitis, treated by primary care doctors, is referred to as a “chest cold” due to the breathing and chest pain that accompany or follow cold symptoms.

Chronic bronchitis is a recurring cough that lasts three or more months at a time, which is also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Common related conditions
Common Cold (Upper Respiratory Infection) Pneumonia

Causes of bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is most often caused by a viral infection accompanying a cold or the flu, but it can also be bacterial or caused by exposure to lung irritants. The infection is easily spread through the air, especially since those who are infected exhibit a strong cough.

Risk factors for bronchitis

Poor hygiene or handwashing is the most common risk factor for acute bronchitis, similarly with cold, flu and other respiratory infections that are passed easily through germs.

Symptoms of bronchitis

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • Persistent cough
  • Tight chest or discomfort in the chest
  • Wheezing
  • Mucus — can be clear, white or yellow/green-ish
  • Chills or low fever
  • Sore throat
  • Cold/flu symptoms such as runny or stuffy nose, headache and body aches

Diagnosis of bronchitis

Bronchitis is diagnosed in a physical exam by a primary care provider, who will discuss the type and duration of symptoms and listen closely to your lungs using a stethoscope.

Treatments for bronchitis

Since acute bronchitis is typically caused by a viral infection, antibiotics aren’t effective, but in those cases where bronchitis is bacterial, antibiotics will be prescribed.

Bronchitis symptoms can be treated with:

  • Pain reliever such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Cough suppressant
  • Warm, hydrating fluids
  • Air humidifier — helps to thin and loosen mucus

Recovery from bronchitis

Acute bronchitis typically takes about three weeks to run its course, although a cough can linger up to six weeks even after other symptoms fade. In cases of bacterial bronchitis, you are no longer contagious to spread the infection after 24 hours on antibiotics. The full dose of antibiotics, typically a 10-day treatment, should be taken.

If you have recurring infections with a cough lasting longer than three months, you could have chronic bronchitis and might be referred to a lung specialist.

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