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Acute Bronchitis


Acute bronchitis

is swelling and irritation in the air passages of your lungs. This irritation may cause you to cough or have other breathing problems. Acute bronchitis often starts because of another illness, such as a cold or the flu. The illness spreads from your nose and throat to your windpipe and airways. Bronchitis is often called a chest cold. Acute bronchitis lasts about 3 to 6 weeks and is usually not a serious illness. Your cough can last for several weeks.

You may have any of the following symptoms:

  • A cough with sputum that may be clear, yellow, or green
  • Feeling more tired than usual, and body aches
  • A fever and chills
  • Wheezing when you breathe
  • A tight chest or pain when you breathe or cough

Seek care immediately if:

  • You cough up blood.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue.
  • You feel like you are not getting enough air when you breathe.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your breathing problems do not go away or get worse.
  • Your cough does not get better within 4 weeks.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.


  • Get more rest. Rest helps your body to heal. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.
  • Avoid irritants in the air. Avoid chemicals, fumes, and dust. Wear a face mask if you must work around dust or fumes. Stay inside on days when air pollution levels are high. If you have allergies, stay inside when pollen counts are high. Do not use aerosol products, such as spray-on deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.
  • Do not smoke or be around others who smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars damages the cilia that move mucus out of your lungs. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Drink liquids as directed. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus. You may need to drink more liquids when you have acute bronchitis. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.

Prevent acute bronchitis by doing the following:

  • Get the vaccinations you need. Ask your healthcare provider if you should get vaccinated against the flu or pneumonia.
  • Prevent the spread of germs. You can decrease your risk of acute bronchitis and other illnesses by doing the following:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing hand lotion or gel with you. You can use the lotion or gel to clean your hands when soap and water are not available.
    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
    • Always cover your mouth when you cough to prevent the spread of germs. It is best to cough into a tissue or your shirt sleeve instead of into your hand. Ask those around you cover their mouths when they cough.
    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.


Your healthcare provider may give you any of the following:

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen are medicines that help lower your fever. They are available without a doctor's order. Ask your healthcare provider which medicine is right for you. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. These medicines can cause stomach bleeding if not taken correctly. Ibuprofen can cause kidney damage. Do not take ibuprofen if you have kidney disease, an ulcer, or allergies to aspirin. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage. Do not take more than 4,000 milligrams in 24 hours.
  • Decongestants help loosen mucus in your lungs and make it easier to cough up. This can help you breathe easier.
  • Cough suppressants decrease your urge to cough. If your cough produces mucus, do not take a cough suppressant unless your healthcare provider tells you to. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you take a cough suppressant at night so you can rest.
  • Inhalers may be given. Your healthcare provider may give you one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives your medicine to open your airways. Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.
    Metered Dose Inhaler

Follow up with your healthcare provider as directed:

Write down questions you have so you will remember to ask them during your follow-up visits.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Acute Bronchitis (Ambulatory Care)

Associated drugs

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