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(Bronchitis, Acute; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection, Chest Cold)
by Jill Shuman, MS, RD, ELS
Acute bronchitis is a short-term respiratory infection that may be referred to as a chest cold. The bronchi branch off the trachea, taking air from the outside into the lungs. In bronchitis, the bronchi become inflamed and produce more mucus.
In most cases, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection. There are times when it may be caused by a bacterial infection.
Risk Factors TOP
Factors that may increase your risk of getting acute bronchitis include:
Acute bronchitis may cause:
You may also have other cold or flu symptoms, such as slight fever, sore throat, and nasal congestion.
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical 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:
Sputum cultures to check for the presence of bacteria are rarely helpful.
Acute bronchitis can be treated with rest and medications. It can take up to a month for the cough to go away.
Your doctor may recommend:
Antibiotics are not used for treatment because acute bronchitis is usually the result of a viral infection.
Avoid using cough suppressant medication. Coughing is necessary to clear mucus from your lungs. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that cough supressants not be used in children less than 2 years old. The FDA also supports not using them in children less than 4 years old.
To help reduce your chance of acute bronchitis:
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:
...(Click grey area to select URL)
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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