Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of your bronchial tubes, pathways that carry air into your lungs. It causes swelling and irritation. When bronchitis is “acute,” that means the inflammation lasts for just a short time, generally less than a few weeks. Though not usually dangerous, it can make you cough a lot and make it harder for you to breathe.


Acute bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that cause common colds. These viruses attack the inside lining of your bronchial tubes causing swelling and irritation, and making mucus.

Viruses that cause acute bronchitis spread from person to person when an infected person coughs into the air. You can get the virus by breathing it in or by touching a surface that has the virus on it. Other possible causes of acute bronchitis include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Fungal infection
  • Exposure to lung irritants like smoke, dust, or fumes
  • Stomach acid that flows backward and gets down into the bronchial tubes, a condition called gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD


The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough. The cough may be dry or may make clear or yellow to green mucus. Thick and discolored mucus does not mean you have a bacterial infection. Other symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • Low fever
  • Muscle aches
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Shortness of breath

These other symptoms usually go away after about 10 days, but your cough may last for a few weeks.


Your doctor may diagnose acute bronchitis if you have a cough and other symptoms. He or she may ask about cold or flu symptoms, if you smoke, and if you are exposed to smoke or other lung irritants. Some things that can help with the diagnosis include:

  • Listening to your chest with a stethoscope
  • Doing a chest X-ray
  • Checking your blood oxygen level
  • Using a microscope to look for bacteria in any mucus that you cough up
  • Doing blood tests to look for signs of infection


In most cases, acute bronchitis goes away on its own. Antibiotics do not work against viruses, so they are usually not needed unless your doctor thinks you have a bacterial infection. Common recommendations for treatment include:

  • Get lots of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Use a humidifier.
  • Breathe in warm, moist air to loosen mucus.
  • Take over-the-counter cough and cold medicines that are approved by your doctor.
  • Use an inhaler to open up your bronchial tubes if you are wheezing.

Prevention: What You Can Do

One of the best ways to prevent acute bronchitis is to wash your hands frequently. If you smoke, you should quit because smoking makes it easier for viruses or bacteria to infect your bronchial tubes. Smoking also slows down the healing process.

These other steps should help, too:

  • Avoid second-hand smoke.
  • Avoid people who have a cold or the flu.
  • Wear a mask when you are exposed to lung irritants.
  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Ask your doctor if you should get the pneumonia vaccine.
  • Call your doctor if you have a cough or other cold symptoms that last more than 10 days.

What We Have Learned

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus.
True or False
The answer is True

The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough.
True or False
The answer is True

There are no ways to prevent getting acute bronchitis.
True or False
The answer is False