Acute bronchitis generally follows a viral respiratory infection. At first, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat and then spreads to the lungs. Sometimes, you may get another (secondary) bacterial infection in the airways.This means that bacteria infect the airways, in addition to the virus.
People at risk for acute bronchitis include:
The elderly, infants, and young children
Persons with heart or lung disease
Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. People have a cough that produces excessive mucus. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus most days of the month for at least 3 months.
Pulse oximetry helps determine the amount of oxygen in your blood. This quick and painless test uses a device that is placed onto the end of your finger. Arterial blood gas is a more exact measurement of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, but it requires a needle stick and is more painful.
Sputum samples may be taken to check for signs of inflammation or bacterial infection.
You DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis caused by a virus. The infection will generally go away on its own within 1 week. Take the following steps for some relief:
Do not smoke
Drink plenty of fluids
Take aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol) if you have a fever. DO NOT give aspirin to children
Use a humidifier or steam in the bathroom
If your symptoms do not improve, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways if you are wheezing. If your doctor thinks that you have a secondary bacterial infection, antibiotics may be prescribed. Most of the time, antibiotics are not needed or recommended.
For any bronchitis, the most important step you can take is to QUIT smoking. If bronchitis is caught early enough, you can prevent the damage to your lungs.
For acute bronchitis, symptoms usually go away within 7 to 10 days if you do not have an underlying lung disorder. However, a dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months.
The chance for recovery is poor for persons with advanced chronic bronchitis. Early recognition and treatment, combined with smoking cessation, significantly improve the chance of a good outcome.
Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis. If you have chronic bronchitis, you are more likely to develop recurrent respiratory infections. You may also develop:
You have a cough most days or you have a cough that returns frequently
You are coughing up blood
You have a high fever or shaking chills
You have a low-grade fever for 3 or more days
You have thick, greenish mucus, especially if it has a bad smell
You feel short of breath or have chest pain
You have an underlying chronic illness, like heart or lung disease
DO NOT smoke.
Get a yearly flu vaccine and a pneumococcal vaccine as directed by your doctor.
Reduce your exposure to air pollution.
Wash your hands (and your children's hands) frequently to avoid spreading viruses and other infections.
Braman SS. Diagnosis and management of cough: ACCP Evidence-Based Clinical Practice Guidelines. Chest. 2006;129:1S-23S.
Gwaltney JM. Acute bronchitis. In: Mandell GL, Bennett JE, Dolin R, eds. Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2005:chap 58.
Allen J. Blaivas, DO, Clinical Assistant Professor of Medicine, UMDNJ-NJMS, Attending Physician in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care, and Sleep Medicine, Department of Veterans Affairs, VA New Jersey Health Care System, East Orange, NJ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.