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Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These airways are called bronchi. This inflammation causes increased mucus production and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the most common are acute and chronic. Bronchitis may also be called a chest cold.
Most symptoms of acute bronchitis last for up to 2 weeks. The cough can last for up to 8 weeks in some people. Chronic bronchitis lasts a long time. It is more common among smokers. Chronic bronchitis is covered in a separate document.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection. This is most often the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection, or by physical or chemical agents that are breathed in. These may include dusts, allergens, and strong fumes, including those from chemical cleaning compounds or tobacco smoke.
Acute bronchitis may follow the common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in people with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. It can be serious in people with lung or heart diseases. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.
The following are the most common symptoms of acute bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
The symptoms of acute bronchitis may look like other conditions or medical problems. Consult a health care provider for a diagnosis.
Health care providers can often diagnose acute bronchitis by taking a medical history and doing physical exam. Tests may be done to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. Any of these tests may be used to help confirm a diagnosis:
Acute bronchitis is usually a mild and does not cause complications. The symptoms often resolve on their own and lung function goes back to normal.
In most cases, antibiotics are not needed to treat acute bronchitis. That’s because most of the infections are caused by viruses. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses. If it has progressed to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be necessary.
Treatment is aimed at treating the symptoms, and may include:
Avoid antihistamines because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.
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