Acute Bronchitis

(Bronchitis, Acute; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection, Chest Cold)

Definition

Acute bronchitis is a short-term respiratory infection that may be referred to as a chest cold. The bronchi branch off the trachea, taking air from the outside into the lungs. In bronchitis, the bronchi become inflamed and produce more mucus.
Bronchi of Lungs
lungs and bronchioles
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Causes

In most cases, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection. There are times when it may be caused by a bacterial infection.

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase your risk of getting acute bronchitis include:
  • Having a cold or flu
  • Contact with a person with a respiratory viral or bacterial infection
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Allergies or asthma
  • Exposures to respiratory inhalants at work, such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Vegetable dusts
  • Poorly functioning immune system

Symptoms

Acute bronchitis may cause:
  • Cough, with or without sputum
  • Increased sputum production
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing
You may also have other cold or flu symptoms such as slight fever, sore throat, and nasal congestion.

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.Tests are rarely needed. The following may be recommended if the bronchitis is severe or the diagnosis is not clear:
  • Blood test
  • Chest x-rays —to look for other conditions such as pneumonia
  • Sputum cultures to check for the presence of bacteria are rarely helpful

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