What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition characterized by inflammation of the bronchial tube lining. The bronchial tubes carry air from the lungs to and from the environment. The bronchi produce thick mucus, leading to the symptoms listed below.

Bronchitis can be either acute (rapid, short course) or chronic (constant). Chronic bronchitis is often related to constant symptoms due to an irritant, such as smoking. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus. It is often preceded by a cold or other respiratory infection. It usually improves within a few days. However, a cough can linger for several weeks.

Bronchitis symptoms

  • Cough
  • Mucus (clear, white, yellow, or green, sometimes with bloody streaks)
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever chills
  • Chest discomfort

How can I treat it?

The best recommendation for bronchitis is to get plenty of rest, force fluids, and avoid irritants that exacerbate the condition such as smoke, or other respiratory irritants. Aspirin or acetaminophen can be considered for discomfort. If one is having trouble sleeping they could consider a cough syrup or speak with their doctor about getting a bronchodilator. Chronic sufferers can speak with their providers about steroid treatments to help open airways more efficiently.

When should I see a doctor?

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, similar to influenza. Thus, antibiotics are not helpful in treating the condition, as antibiotics don’t kill viruses. Often, one’s immune system is the best defense for this condition. However, there are a few situations when one should seek medical advice:

  • The cough lasts more than three weeks
  • The symptoms prevent sleeping
  • Fever of 100.4 or higher
  • Production of discolored mucus
  • Coughing up blood
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath

The doctor may pursue obtaining a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia, sputum tests to rule out a bacterial reason for the cough, or pulmonary function tests to rule out breathing conditions such as asthma. Treatments are based on these tests and most likely will include medications to treat symptoms.

Preventative measures

If one is susceptible to bronchitis, several measures can be taken to reduce risks. These include:

  • Avoid respiratory irritants such as cigarette smoke, first or secondhand, as well as other respiratory irritants such as chemical fumes, grains, textiles
  • Get your flu vaccine. Most acute bronchitis cases are caused from the influenza virus.
  • Hand hygiene with frequent washing or hand sanitizing, especially when eating or preparing food
  • Reduce the risk for heartburn or GERD, as these conditions can irritate your throat and make you more susceptible to bronchitis

Mayo Clinic Bronchitis

WebMD Bronchitis Diagnosis and Treatment: What to Know