Acute Bronchitis

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


Acute bronchitis is a short term lung infection. Bronchi in the lungs become inflamed and start to make more phlegm than normal. It leads to intense coughing.

Bronchi of Lungs
lungs and bronchioles

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Viruses are the most common cause of infection. Bacteria can also cause it, but this isn’t as common.

Risk Factors

Your risk is higher if you:

  • Have a cold or the flu
  • Are around others who are sick
  • Smoke or are around second hand smoke
  • Have allergies or asthma
  • Work with certain substances such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Dusts from farming
  • Have a weakened immune system


Common symptoms may cause:

  • Cough, with or without phlegm, but over time phlegm increases
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing
  • Slight fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose


The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and health history. Your answers may point to acute bronchitis. You may need further testing only if the doctor suspects something else such as pneumonia. This is normally not done.


The infection will go away on its own. Care focuses on making you feel better until the infection passes. The cough can last for up to a month.

Care may involve:

  • Drinking more fluids
  • Resting when needed
  • Medicines to lower fever, ease discomfort, and make you cough up more phlegm (talk to your doctor before using a cough suppressant, coughing clears phlegm)
  • Inhalers to ease breathing—more common in people with asthma

Note : Check with your child’s doctor before giving them aspirin. It’s not a good option if they have or had a viral infection. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) advises not using cough suppressants in children less than 2 years old. The FDA also supports not using them in children less than 4 years old.


To lower your chances of infection:

  • Wash your hands often, especially if you were with someone who is sick.
  • If you can, don’t be around people who are sick.
  • If you smoke, talk to your doctor about tools to help you quit. Smoke weakens the lungs' ability stay healthy. It also takes longer for infections to go away.

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: Updated September 13, 2013. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Acute bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: Updated February 14, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: Updated July 8, 2017. Accessed May 29, 2018.

Smith SM, Fahey T, Smucny J, Becker LA. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;6:CD000245.

2/3/2015 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance 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 2018 by David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 5/29/2018