Skip to Content
Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Acute Bronchitis
Bronchitis means that the tubes that carry air
to the lungs (the bronchial tubes) are inflamed and
irritated. When this happens, the bronchial tubes swell and produce
mucus. This makes you cough.
two types of bronchitis:
This topic focuses on acute bronchitis. Both children and
adults can get acute bronchitis.
Most healthy people who get acute bronchitis get better without any
problems. But it can be more serious in older adults and children and in people with other health problems, especially lung diseases such as asthma or COPD. Complications can include pneumonia and repeated episodes of severe bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a
virus. Often a person gets acute bronchitis a few days after having an
upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or
the flu. Sometimes acute bronchitis is caused by
Acute bronchitis also can be
caused by breathing in things that irritate the bronchial tubes, such as smoke.
It also can happen if a person inhales food or vomit into the lungs.
common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough that usually is dry and hacking at first.
After a few days, the cough may bring up mucus. You may have a low fever and
Most people get better in 2 to 3
weeks. But some people continue to have a cough for more than 4 weeks.
If your symptoms get worse, such as a high fever, shaking chills, chest or shoulder pain, or shortness of breath, you could have pneumonia. Pneumonia can be serious, so it's important to see a doctor if you feel like you're getting sicker.
Your doctor will ask you about
your symptoms and examine you. This usually gives the doctor enough information
to find out if you have acute bronchitis.
In some cases, you may need a chest
X-ray or other tests to make sure that you don't have pneumonia, whooping cough, or
another lung problem. This is especially true if you've had bronchitis for a few weeks and aren't getting better. More testing also may be needed for babies, older adults, and people who have lung disease (such as asthma or COPD) or other health problems.
Most people can treat symptoms of acute bronchitis
at home and don't need antibiotics or other prescription medicines. (Antibiotics don't help with viral bronchitis. And even bronchitis caused by bacteria will usually go away on its own.)
The following may help you feel better:
If you have signs of bronchitis and have heart or lung disease (such as heart failure, asthma, or COPD) or another serious health problem, talk to your doctor right away. You may need treatment with antibiotics or medicines to help with your breathing. Early treatment may prevent complications, such as pneumonia or repeated episodes of acute bronchitis caused by bacteria.
There are several things you can do to help prevent bronchitis.
Health Tools help you make wise health decisions or take action to improve your health.
Learning about acute bronchitis:
Taking care of yourself:
The American Lung Association provides programs of
education, community service, and advocacy. Some of the topics available
include asthma, tobacco control, emphysema, infectious disease, asbestos, carbon monoxide, radon,
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is
an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC works
with state and local health officials and the public to achieve better health
for all people. The CDC creates the expertise, information, and tools that
people and communities need to protect their health—by promoting health,
preventing disease, injury, and disability, and being prepared for new health
This website is sponsored by the Nemours Foundation. It
has a wide range of information about children's health—from allergies and
diseases to normal growth and development (birth to adolescence). This website
offers separate areas for kids, teens, and parents, each providing
age-appropriate information that the child or parent can understand. You can
sign up to get weekly emails about your area of interest.
The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
(NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing
Other Works Consulted
Wenzel RP, Fowler AA III (2006). Acute bronchitis. New England Journal of Medicine, 355(20): 2125–2130.
July 10, 2012
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Robert L. Cowie, MB, FCP(SA), MD, MSc, MFOM - Pulmonology
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2013 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Our interactive Decision Points guide you through making key health decisions by combining medical information with your personal information.
You'll find Decision Points to help you answer questions about:
Get started learning more about your health!
Our Interactive Tools can help you make smart decisions for a healthier life. You'll find personal calculators and tools for health and fitness, lifestyle checkups, and pregnancy.
Feeling under the weather?
Use our interactive symptom checker to evaluate your symptoms and determine appropriate action or treatment.
Send Us Your Feedback
North Kansas City Hospital.