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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 viral 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 2 weeks and is usually not a serious illness.



  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen: These medicines help lower a 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 drink alcohol if you take acetaminophen.
  • Cough medicine: This medicine helps loosen mucus in your lungs and make it easier to cough up. This can help you breathe easier.
  • Inhalers: You may need one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.
  • Steroid medicine: Steroid medicine helps open your air passages so you can breathe easier.
  • Take your medicine as directed. Call your healthcare provider if you think your medicine is not helping or if you have side effects. Tell him if you are allergic to any medicine. Keep a list of the medicines, vitamins, and herbs you take. Include the amounts, and when and why you take them. Bring the list or the pill bottles to follow-up visits. Carry your medicine list with you in case of an emergency.

How to use an inhaler:

  • Shake the inhaler well to make sure you get the correct amount of medicine per puff. Remove the cover from your inhaler's mouthpiece. If you are using a spacer, connect your inhaler to the flat end of the spacer.
  • Exhale as much air from your lungs as you can. Put the mouthpiece in your mouth past your front teeth and rest it on the top of your tongue. Do not block the mouthpiece opening with your tongue.
  • Breathe in through your mouth at a slow and steady rate. As you do this, press the inhaler to release the puff of medicine. Finish breathing in slowly and deeply as you inhale the medicine. When your lungs are full, hold your breath for 10 seconds. Then breathe out slowly through puckered lips or through your nose.

  • If you need to take more puffs, wait at least 1 minute between each puff.
  • Rinse your mouth with water after you use the inhaler. This may keep you from getting a mouth infection or irritation.
  • Follow the instructions that come with your inhaler to clean it. You should clean your inhaler at least once a week.

Ways to care for yourself:

  • Avoid alcohol: Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. When you have bronchitis, you need to be able to cough and sneeze to clear your air passages. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.
  • Avoid irritants in the air: Do not smoke or allow others to smoke around you. 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. Avoid aerosol products. This includes spray-on deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.
  • Drink more liquids: Most people should drink at least 8 eight-ounce cups of water a day. You may need to drink more liquids when you have acute bronchitis. Liquids help keep your air passages moist and help you cough up mucus.
  • Get more rest: You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.
  • Eat healthy foods: Eat a variety healthy foods every day. Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, breads, and protein (such as chicken, fish, and beans). Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and ice cream) can sometimes increase the amount of mucus your body makes. Ask if you should decrease your intake of dairy products.
  • Use a humidifier: Use a cool mist humidifier to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe and help decrease your cough.

Decrease your risk of acute bronchitis:

  • Get the vaccinations you need: Ask your healthcare provider if you should get vaccinated against the flu or pneumonia.
  • Avoid things that may irritate your lungs: Stay inside or cover your mouth and nose with a scarf when you are outside during cold weather. You should also stay inside on days when air pollution levels are high. If you have allergies, stay inside when pollen counts are high. Avoid using aerosol products in your home. This includes spray-on deodorant, bug spray, and hair spray.
  • Avoid the spread of germs:
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Carry germ-killing gel with you. You can use the gel to clean your hands when there is no soap and water available.
    • Do not touch your eyes, nose, or mouth unless you have washed your hands first.
    • Always cover your mouth when you cough. Cough into a tissue or your shirtsleeve so you do not spread germs from your hands.
    • Try to avoid people who have a cold or the flu. If you are sick, stay away from others as much as possible.

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.

Contact your healthcare provider if:

  • You have a fever.
  • Your skin becomes itchy or you have a rash after you take your medicine.
  • Your breathing problems do not go away or get worse.
  • Your cough does not get better with treatment.
  • You cough up blood.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • You faint.
  • Your lips or fingernails turn blue.
  • You feel like you are not getting enough air when you breathe.
  • You have swelling of your lips, tongue, or throat that makes it hard to breathe or swallow.

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 (Discharge Care)

Associated drugs

Micromedex® Care Notes