Acute bronchitis is a form of lower respiratory tract inflammation affecting the air tubes (bronchi) of the lungs.
Acute bronchitis comes on suddenly.
It means that the tubes that carry air to your lungs are inflamed.
It usually gets better on its own without the need for antibiotics.
The infection usually lasts for 3-10 days; but the cough can continue for several weeks.
It is different from chronic bronchitis, a chronic disease for which there is no cure.
What Is Acute Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is the sudden development of inflammation in bronchial tubes—the major airways into your lungs. It usually happens because of a virus or breathing in things that irritate the lungs such as tobacco smoke, fumes, dust and air pollution. Bacteria sometimes cause acute bronchitis.
How Acute Bronchitis Affects Your Body
In acute bronchitis, cells that line the bronchi become infected. The infection usually starts in the nose or throat and travels to the bronchial tubes. When the body tries to fight the infection, it causes the bronchial tubes to swell. This causes you to cough. Sometimes it is a dry cough, but often you will cough up mucus (sputum). The inflammation also causes less air to be able to move through the bronchial tubes, which can cause wheezing, chest tightness and shortness of breath. Eventually, the immune system fights off the infection. Acute bronchitis usually lasts for 3-10 days. However, your cough and mucus (sputum) production can last for several weeks after the infection has cleared.
How Serious Is Acute Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is temporary and usually does not cause any permanent breathing difficulties. It is possible for people with weakened immune systems or other major health problems to develop severe problems such as pneumonia or respiratory failure. In general, those who develop major problems from acute bronchitis are:
People with other major health conditions including cancer or diabetes
People who have not been immunized for the flu, pneumonia and whooping cough.
What Are the Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis?
The most common symptoms of acute bronchitis are:
Coughing up mucus that may be yellow or green
Runny and stuffy nose starting a few days before the chest congestion
Feeling run-down or tired
Sore ribs from prolonged periods of coughing
Not being able to be as active
Wheezing or a whistling sound while breathing
What Causes Acute Bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a respiratory virus and occasionally by bacterial infection, although this occurs in less than 10 percent of cases).
What Are Risk Factors for Acute Bronchitis?
Close contact with someone who has a cold or acute bronchitis
Failure to get age-appropriate immunizations (shots)
Exposure to tobacco smoke, fumes, dust and air pollution
When to See Your Doctor
You should see your doctor if you think you have acute bronchitis and if your symptoms persist.
What to Expect
A physical examination, and possibly an X-ray if you’ve had fever
Resting and getting plenty of fluids
Symptoms that last a few weeks
How Is Acute Bronchitis Diagnosed?
Healthcare providers diagnose acute bronchitis by asking patients questions about symptoms and doing a physical examination. They rarely order additional tests to diagnose acute bronchitis. If you have or recently had a fever, your provider might order a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia.
How Is Acute Bronchitis Treated?
Most cases of acute bronchitis go away on their own. The infection simply has to run its course over several weeks. Your doctor may recommend rest, fluids, a cough suppressant and/or a pain reliever. A humidifier or steam may also help. You may need inhaled medicine to open your airways if you are wheezing. Antibiotics haven’t been proven to shorten the course of acute bronchitis or lessen symptoms. Because viruses cause most cases, antibiotics are not generally used, as they are only effective against bacteria. Additionally, using antibiotics when they aren’t recommended can not only cause side effects, but also might mean that your body won’t respond to antibiotics when it needs to. If your doctor thinks that bacteria caused your acute bronchitis, he or she might then prescribe antibiotics.
Managing Acute Bronchitis
On average, the symptoms of acute bronchitis last only a couple of weeks. However if you have a cough that won’t go away, it may be the sign of a more serious disease and you should visit your doctor.