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Acute Bronchitis

Medically reviewed by Last updated on May 1, 2023.

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is swelling and irritation in your lungs. It is usually caused by a virus and most often happens in the winter. Bronchitis may also be caused by bacteria or by a chemical irritant, such as smoke.

What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

  • Cough that lasts up to 3 weeks, stuffy nose
  • Hoarseness, sore throat
  • A fever and chills
  • Feeling more tired than usual, and body aches
  • Wheezing or pain when you breathe or cough

How is acute bronchitis treated?

You may need any of the following:

  • Cough suppressants decrease your urge to cough.
  • Decongestants help loosen mucus in your lungs and make it easier to cough up. This can help you breathe easier.
  • 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 you medicine to open your airways. Ask your healthcare provider to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.
    Metered Dose Inhaler
  • Antibiotics may be given for up to 5 days if your bronchitis is caused by bacteria.
  • Acetaminophen decreases pain and fever. It is available without a doctor's order. Ask how much to take and how often to take it. Follow directions. Read the labels of all other medicines you are using to see if they also contain acetaminophen, or ask your doctor or pharmacist. Acetaminophen can cause liver damage if not taken correctly.
  • NSAIDs help decrease swelling and pain or fever. This medicine is available with or without a doctor's order. NSAIDs can cause stomach bleeding or kidney problems in certain people. If you take blood thinner medicine, always ask your healthcare provider if NSAIDs are safe for you. Always read the medicine label and follow directions.

Treatment options

The following list of medications are in some way related to or used in the treatment of this condition.

How can I manage my symptoms?

  • Drink liquids as directed. You may need to drink more liquids than usual to stay hydrated. Ask how much liquid to drink each day and which liquids are best for you.
  • 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.
  • 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 are smoking. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can cause lung damage. 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.

How can I help prevent acute bronchitis?

  • Ask about vaccines you may need. Get a flu vaccine each year as soon as recommended, usually in September or October. Ask your healthcare provider if you should also get a pneumonia or COVID-19 vaccine. Your healthcare provider can tell you if you should also get other vaccines, and when to get them.
  • Prevent the spread of germs.
    • 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 to 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.

When should I seek immediate care?

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

When should I call my doctor?

  • Your symptoms do not go away or get worse, even after treatment.
  • Your cough does not get better within 4 weeks.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. 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.

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Further information

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