Navigate Up

Pediatric Center - A-Z Index

#
Q
Z

Print This Page

Bronchitis - acute

Acute bronchitis is swelling and inflammation in the main passages that carry air to the lungs. The swelling narrows the airways, which makes it harder to breathe. Another symptom of bronchitis is a cough. Acute means the symptoms have been present only for a short time.

Bronchitis

Causes

When acute bronchitis occurs, it almost always comes after having a cold or flu-like illness. The bronchitis infection is caused by a virus. At first, it affects your nose, sinuses, and throat. Then it spreads to the airways that lead to your lungs.

Causes of acute bronchitis

Sometimes, bacteria also infect your airways. This is called a secondary infection.

Chronic bronchitis is a long-term condition. To be diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, you must have a cough with mucus on most days for at least 3 months.

Causes of chronic bronchitis

Symptoms

Some symptoms of acute bronchitis are:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Cough that produces mucus -- the mucus may be clear or yellow-green
  • Fatigue
  • Fever -- usually low-grade
  • Shortness of breath that gets worse with activity
  • Wheezing , in people with asthma

Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lasts for 1 to 4 weeks.

Sometimes it can be hard to know you have pneumonia or bronchitis. If you have pneumonia, you are more likely to have a high fever and chills, feel sicker, or be more short of breath.

 

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider will listen to the breathing sounds in your lungs with a stethoscope. Your breathing may sound abnormal or rough.

Lung anatomy

Tests may include:

  • Chest x-ray , if your health care provider suspects pneumonia
  • Pulse oximetry, a painless test that helps determine the amount of oxygen in your blood by using a device placed on the end of your finger

Treatment

Most people DO NOT need antibiotics for acute bronchitis. The infection will almost always go away on its own within 1 week. Doing these things may help you feel better:

  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • If you have asthma or another chronic lung condition, use your inhaler.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Take aspirin or acetaminophen (Tylenol and other brands) if you have a fever. Do not give aspirin to children.
  • Use a humidifier or steam in the bathroom.

Certain medicines that you can buy without a prescription can help break up or loosen mucus. Look for the word "guaifenesin" on the label. Ask the pharmacist if you need help finding it.

If your symptoms do not improve or if you are wheezing, your doctor may prescribe an inhaler to open your airways.

If your doctor thinks you also have bacteria in your airways, he or she may prescribe antibiotics. This medicine will only get rid of bacteria, not viruses. A bacterial infection is more common if you also have a chronic lung disease like COPD.

Sometimes, bacteria may infect the airways along with the virus. If your doctor thinks this has happened, you may be prescribed antibiotics. Sometimes, corticosteroid medicine is also needed to reduce inflammation in the lungs.

Other tips include:

  • Do not smoke.
  • Avoid secondhand smoke and air pollution.
  • Wash your hands (and your children's hands) often to avoid spreading viruses and other germs.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Except for the cough, symptoms usually go away in 7 to 10 days if you do not have a lung disorder.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if you:

  • Have a cough on most days, or have a cough that keeps returning
  • Are coughing up blood
  • Have a high fever or shaking chills
  • Have a low-grade fever for 3 or more days
  • Have thick, yellow-green mucus, especially if it has a bad smell
  • Feel short of breath or have chest pain
  • Have a chronic illness, like heart or lung disease

References

Davids S, Schapira RM. Respiratory diseases, acute bronchitis. In: Bope ET, Kellerman RD, eds. Conn's Current Therapy 2014. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:section 6.

Ferri FF. Acute bronchitis. In: Ferri FF, ed. Ferri's Clinical Advisor 2013. 1st ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:section 1.

Updated: 4/26/2014

Denis Hadjiliadis, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com