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Acute Bronchitis

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

Definition

Acute bronchitis is a short-term lung infection. Airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and make more phlegm than normal. This causes severe coughing.

Bronchi of Lungs
lungs and bronchioles

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Causes

Viruses are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. Bacteria can also cause it, but this is not as common.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk are:

  • Having a cold or the flu
  • Being around others who are sick
  • Smoking, or being near others who smoke
  • Having allergies or asthma
  • Working with certain substances that can cause irritation of airways such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Dusts from farming
  • Having a weak immune system

Symptoms

Acute bronchitis can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing
  • Slight fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. Diagnosis is often based on symptoms.

Treatment

An infection caused by a virus will usually go away on its own within a week. The cough can last for up to a month.

The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. It includes:

  • Drinking more fluids
  • Resting
  • Medicines to lower fever and manage coughing
  • Inhalers to open airways and ease breathing

An infection caused by bacteria will also need antibiotics.

Prevention

The risk of acute bronchitis can be lowered by:

  • Washing hands often
  • Staying away from sick people
  • Not smoking
RESOURCES:

American Lung Association
http://www.lung.org

Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians
https://familydoctor.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

The College of Family Physicians of Canada
http://www.cfpc.ca

The Lung Association
https://www.lung.ca

REFERENCES:

About antibiotic use and resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/community/about/index.html. Accessed February 2, 2021.

Acute bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/acute-bronchitis. . Accessed February 2, 2021.

Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acute-bronchitis. Accessed February 2, 2021.

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

Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP  Last Updated: 2/2/2021