What is bronchitis?
There are two types of bronchitis:
This topic focuses on acute bronchitis. Both children and adults can get acute bronchitis.
Most healthy people who get acute bronchitis get better without any problems. But it can be more serious in older adults and children and in people with other health problems, especially lung diseases such as asthma or COPD. Complications can include pneumonia and repeated episodes of severe bronchitis.
What causes acute bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus. Often a person gets acute bronchitis a few days after having an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or the flu. Sometimes acute bronchitis is caused by bacteria.
Acute bronchitis also can be caused by breathing in things that irritate the bronchial tubes, such as smoke. It also can happen if a person inhales food or vomit into the lungs.
What are the symptoms?
The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough that usually is dry and hacking at first. After a few days, the cough may bring up mucus. You may have a low fever and feel tired.
Most people get better in 2 to 3 weeks. But some people continue to have a cough for more than 4 weeks.
If your symptoms get worse, such as a high fever, shaking chills, chest or shoulder pain, or shortness of breath, you could have pneumonia. Pneumonia can be serious, so it's important to see a doctor if you feel like you're getting sicker.
How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. This usually gives the doctor enough information to find out if you have acute bronchitis.
In some cases, you may need a chest X-ray or other tests to make sure that you don't have pneumonia, whooping cough, or another lung problem. This is especially true if you've had bronchitis for a few weeks and aren't getting better. More testing also may be needed for babies, older adults, and people with lung disease (such as asthma or COPD) or other health problems.
How is it treated?
Most people can treat symptoms of acute bronchitis at home and don't need antibiotics or other prescription medicines. (Antibiotics don't help with viral bronchitis. And even bronchitis caused by bacteria will usually go away on its own.)
To help relieve cough and fever and to feel better:
If you have signs of bronchitis and have heart or lung disease (such as heart failure, asthma or COPD) or another serious health problem, talk to your doctor right away. You may need treatment with antibiotics and medicines to help with your breathing, such as inhaled beta2-agonists or corticosteroids. Early treatment may prevent complications, such as pneumonia or repeated episodes of acute bronchitis caused by bacteria.
What can you do to avoid getting bronchitis?
There are several things you can do to help prevent bronchitis.
If you have a cold or other upper respiratory infection, it may help to get extra rest and drink plenty of fluids to avoid getting dehydrated.
eMedicineHealth Medical Reference from Healthwise
To learn more visit Healthwise.org
© 1995-2012 Healthwise, Incorporated. Healthwise, Healthwise for every health decision, and the Healthwise logo are trademarks of Healthwise, Incorporated.
Find out what women really need.