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Acute Bronchitis

(Bronchitis, Acute; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection, Chest Cold)



Acute bronchitis is a short-term issue of airways to the lungs. It affects airways in the chest called the bronchi. These airways become inflamed and start to make more mucus than normal. It causes intense coughing with thick mucus.

Bronchi of Lungs

lungs and bronchioles

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Causes    TOP

Acute bronchitis is most often caused by an infection. A virus is the most common cause. Less often a bacteria can start the infection. Substances in the air, like cigarette smoke or inhalants, can also cause bronchitis.


Risk Factors    TOP

Factors that may increase your risk of getting acute bronchitis include:

  • Having a cold or the flu
  • Contact with a person with a respiratory viral or bacterial infection
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Allergies or asthma
  • Exposures to respiratory inhalants at work, such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Vegetable dusts
  • Poorly functioning immune system

Symptoms    TOP

Acute bronchitis may cause:

  • Cough, with or without sputum
  • Increased sputum production
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing

You may also have other cold or flu symptoms such as:

  • Slight fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose

Diagnosis    TOP

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.

Tests are rarely needed. The following may be recommended if the bronchitis is severe or the diagnosis is not clear:


Treatment    TOP

Acute bronchitis can be treated with rest and medicine. It can take up to a month for the cough to go away.

Your doctor may recommend:

  • Over-the-counter medicine to relieve discomfort and reduce fever
    • Note: Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin. It is not a good option for children with a current or recent viral infection.
  • Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day to help make your cough more productive
  • Inhalers—to improve symptoms in adults with a history of asthma

Avoid using cough suppressant medication. Coughing is necessary to clear mucus from your lungs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that cough suppressants not be used in children less than 2 years old. The FDA also supports not using them in children less than 4 years old.


Prevention    TOP

To help reduce your chance of acute bronchitis:

  • Wash your hands often. This is even more important if you are in contact with someone who is sick.
  • Avoid contact with people who have infections like cold or flu.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about tools to help you quit. Smoke weakens the lungs' ability to resist infections. It will also take longer for you to recover from illnesses if you smoke.

American Lung Association

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


The College of Family Physicians of Canada

The Lung Association


About antibiotic use and resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Updated September 13, 2013. Accessed February 14, 2014.

Acute bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
Updated September 2013. Accessed February 14, 2014.

Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113814/Acute-bronchitis. Updated March 25, 2016. Accessed September 29, 2016.

Smith SM, Fahey T, Smucny J, Becker LA. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2014;3:CD000245.

2/3/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T113814/Acute-bronchitis: Rantala A, Jaakkola JJ, Jaakkola MS. Respiratory infections in adults with atopic disease and IgE antibodies to common aeroallergens. PLoS One. 2013;8(7):e68582.

Last reviewed May 2016 by David Horn, MD
Last Updated: 2/3/2015

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