Bronchitis - Acute

This is a condition in which the lung's large air passages become irritated and swollen because of infection or exposure to an irritant.

This is a condition in which the lung's large air passages become irritated and swollen because of infection or exposure to an irritant.

Acute bronchitis is a short-term irritation and swelling of the lining of the large air passages (bronchial tubes) leading to the lungs. This type of bronchitis usually occurs after a viral infection (such as the common cold); bacterial infection (less common); or exposure to chemicals, dust or fumes.

  • Acute bronchitis is more common that chronic bronchitis, which is considered a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • COPD is a long-term condition that is most often the result of smoking. However, it may occur in persons who have never smoked due to other environmental or work-related irritants. A genetic disease may also cause a form of COPD, which is not discussed in this care path.
  • Acute bronchitis can occasionally develop when stomach acids back up into the air passages and damages the lining of the bronchial tubes. This can occur with gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD.
  • Acute bronchitis is most common in the winter, but can occur during any season.

Most cases of bronchitis are caused by a virus. People who have a virus can spread it by coughing, sneezing or touching a surface or object. Others may “catch” a virus if they breathe in infected droplets or touch an infected surface, and then touch their nose, eyes or mouth. The most common symptoms of acute bronchitis are:

  • cough (sputum may be discolored)
  • low-grade fever (typically less than 100 degrees)
  • feeling ill or fatigued
  • discomfort in the chest area

For treatment, make sure to get plenty of rest and drink an adequate amount of fluids. Also, avoid cigarette smoke and other respiratory irritants. If needed, your health care provider may order an antiviral, antibiotic or over-the-counter medication for you.

  • Most coughs should go away in two to three weeks. Contact your healthcare professional if your symptoms continue or get worse. You may have developed a secondary infection (another infection that occurs on top of or after the first one).
  • Antibiotics are not effective against viruses and the overuse of antibiotics can result in bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotics.
  • One of the best ways to prevent getting sick is to wash your hands frequently and avoid people who have symptoms of a respiratory infection.
  • One of the best ways to avoid making others sick is to cover your mouth when you cough and to wash your hands frequently!

Contact your healthcare provider if you have symptoms of bronchitis or a chest infection.

  • If you are going to see a healthcare provider other than your primary care physician, bring a copy of your medical history (past illnesses, surgeries and hospitalizations).
  • Make a list of your medications (including over-the-counter).
  • Write down any questions, symptoms or concerns you want to talk about.

Here are some questions to ask your healthcare provider.

  • What is my causing my symptoms and what treatment are you recommending? Are there any alternatives?
  • When might I start to see improvement in my symptoms?
  • What tests are you going to do? What is the reason for those tests? Will the test results change my treatment plan?
  • What are my follow-up plans and what symptoms should I report before my next appointment?

Make sure you understand your treatment plan, any possible alternatives, and what medications are recommended (including possible side effects).


Also known as:

Shortness of Breath
Severe Cough
Respiratory Infection
Productive Cough
Infection in Chest
Hacking Cough
Green Phlegm
Chest Infection
Bronchitis - Acute
Blood Tinged Phlegm
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