Bronchitis is an inflammation and irritation of the bronchi in the lungs that causes a cough.
There are two types of bronchitis:
- Acute bronchitis (also called a “chest cold”)
- The most common type of bronchitis
- Caused by an infection
- Most frequently caused by viruses such as the common cold, influenza, whooping cough, or COVID-19
- Can also be caused by bacteria
- Lasts less than 3 weeks
- Chronic bronchitis
- A type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Usually caused by smoking
- Can also occur from breathing in toxic fumes or gases
- Cough lasts for 3 months or longer for 2 or more years in a row
If you have acute bronchitis, you should stay home from work because acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, and in some cases bacteria, so it is contagious.
- If you are sick, you can transmit the virus or bacteria that caused acute bronchitis to another person. You should avoid close contact with other people to avoid infecting them for as long as you are contagious.
- If acute bronchitis is caused by a virus, is it contagious from shortly after you become infected until symptoms resolve, which may be a week or more. If acute bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics, and you are no longer considered contagious after 48 hours of taking antibiotics.
- Chronic bronchitis is not contagious. If you have COPD, you should talk to your doctor about what accommodations you might need to make at your workplace so you are able to do your job properly. You may have to take more sick days and stay home from work if you have a chronic illness.
What Are Symptoms of Bronchitis?
Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:
- A nagging cough that lasts less than 3 weeks
- Coughing with or without mucus (mucus may be clear, yellow, or green)
- Chest soreness
- Cold or flu symptoms
- Stuffy nose
- Sore throat
- Mild body aches
- Mild headache
Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
- Coughing up mucus on most days for at least 3 months, for 2 years in a row
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort or tightness
What Is the Treatment for Bronchitis?
Treatment for bronchitis depends on whether it is acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis, for example, usually goes away on its own, but it can take a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, may require doctor-prescribed medications or treatments.
Bronchitis Home Remedies
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses and home remedies may be used to relieve symptoms including:
- Drinking plenty of liquids
- Drinking hot tea
- Inhaling warm, moist air, such as in the shower, over a kettle, or from a humidifier
- Over-the-counter (OTC) cough and cold medicines
- OTC pain-relievers including acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) for cold or flu symptoms such as headache, muscle aches, or joint pain
- Sucking on lozenges, cough drops, or hard candy
- Young children should not be given lozenges or cough drops due to choking risk
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke
If acute bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, it is treated with antibiotics.
Chronic Bronchitis Treatment
Treatment for chronic bronchitis includes:
- Prescription medications
- Inhalers to help open up airways or reduce swelling in the airways
- Steroids for inflammation
- Pulmonary rehab to learn exercises and ways to breathe that can help ease symptoms
- Don’t smoke or vape
- Get the flu shot every fall and the pneumonia vaccine at least once
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