Acute Bronchitis: What Is It and How Is It Treated?

May 7th 2016

Smoking can also cause acute and chronic bronchitis, and acute bronchitis can turn into chronic bronchitis as a result of smoking. Those who smoke are much more likely to develop acute bronchitis in the first place, and the secondhand smoke from their cigarettes can precipitate the disease in those around them. Staying away from people who have a cold or the flu, getting a flu vaccine, and washing hands frequently during flu season can help stave off a case of acute bronchitis.

Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

Viruses typically cause acute bronchitis, but it can also be caused by allergens and other lung irritants, including tobacco smoke. The viruses that typically cause acute bronchitis are the same ones that are responsible for the common cold or the flu.

Acute bronchitis is characterized by a cough and wheezing. The cough tends to start as a dry cough, but can start to bring up mucus after a few days. The cough usually abates after about three weeks, but in some cases, a dry cough can continue long after other symptoms have disappeared.

Patients also often run a low fever and experience fatigue. Some people also feel tightness in their chests and, in unusual cases, the patient may also experience shortness of breath.

Treatment of Acute Bronchitis

Immediate treatment of acute bronchitis usually involves rest and ingesting fluids. Doctors often suggest aspirin, ibuprofen or acetaminophen to fight off the inflammation; however, children with acute bronchitis should not be given aspirin or ibuprofen. Inhaling moist air or steam from a humidifier can help to relieve the difficulty in breathing and loosen mucus. If the patient is wheezing, a doctor may prescribe an inhaler and steroid medications to help open breathing passages. Viruses cause most cases of acute bronchitis, and antibiotics are useless at fighting viruses. However, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics if she finds a bacterial infection is present.

Cough medicine can help calm the persistent cough of bronchitis, and cough syrups that contain expectorants can help bring up mucus more effectively. While cough drops don't really do much to stop a cough, they can soothe the irritation in the throat caused by coughing.

When to See a Doctor for Acute Bronchitis

Anyone with the symptoms of acute bronchitis should see a doctor for diagnosis. Doctors diagnose acute bronchitis by listening to the lungs, examining any expelled mucus and testing the oxygen levels of the blood. In some cases, they may also ask for chest X-rays, blood tests or lung function tests, especially if the bronchitis isn't going away or if the patient has other lung diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma. X-rays can also help rule out other conditions, such as pneumonia or pertussis.

Acute bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, which is a much more serious disease. If the patient has already been diagnosed with bronchitis and develops a high fever, chills, shortness of breath or chest pain, he should return to the doctor.


Acute bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes that transport air to the lungs become inflamed, swollen and irritated. It differs from chronic bronchitis, which has a typical duration of at least three months a year and tends to occur yearly. Acute bronchitis, on the other hand, tends to come on suddenly and has a typical duration of about 10 days to three weeks.

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