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Acute Bronchitis


What is 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.

What causes acute bronchitis?

  • Infection caused by a virus, bacteria, or a fungus
  • Polluted air caused by chemical fumes, dust, smoke, allergens, or pollution

What increases my risk for acute bronchitis?

  • Age, usually older adults
  • Smoking cigarettes or being around cigarette smoke
  • Chronic lung diseases or chronic sinus infections
  • Weakened immune system
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Allergies and environmental changes

What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

  • 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

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider may diagnose bronchitis by your symptoms. If he is not sure, you may need the following:

  • Blood tests will be done to see if your symptoms are caused by an infection.
  • X-ray pictures of your lungs and heart may show signs of infection, such as pneumonia. Chest x-rays may also show fluid around your heart and lungs.

How is acute bronchitis treated?

Your healthcare provider will treat any condition that has caused your acute bronchitis. He may also 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.

How can I care for myself when I have acute bronchitis?

  • 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.

How can I decrease my risk for acute bronchitis?

  • 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.

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 contact my healthcare provider?

  • 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.

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 caregivers 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.

© 2017 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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.