(Bronchitis, Acute; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection, Chest Cold)
DefinitionAcute 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|
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CausesIn most cases, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection. There are times when it may be caused by a bacterial infection.
Risk FactorsFactors 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
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Exposures to respiratory inhalants at work, such as:
- Vegetable dusts
- Poorly functioning immune system
SymptomsAcute bronchitis may cause:
- Cough, with or without sputum
- Increased sputum production
- Trouble breathing
DiagnosisYour 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
TreatmentAcute bronchitis can be treated with rest and medications. It can take up to a month for the cough to go away.Your doctor may recommend:
- Over-the-counter medications to relieve discomfort and reduce fever
- Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children with a current or recent viral infection. Check with your doctor before giving your child aspirin.
- Inhalers—to improve symptoms in adults with a history of asthma
- Staying hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids throughout the day to help make your cough more productive
PreventionTo help reduce your chance of getting acute bronchitis:
- Use proper handwashing hygiene, especially if you are in contact with someone who is sick
- Avoid contact with people who have respiratory viral or bacterial infections.
- If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how you can successfully quit. Smoke weakens the lungs' resistance to infection and increases recovery time.
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Lung Association
The Canadian Lung Association
The College of Family Physicians of Canada
Acute bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: http://familydoctor.org/familydoctor/en/diseases-conditions/acute-bronchitis.html. Updated September 2013. Accessed February 14, 2014.
Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated December 21, 2013. Accessed February 14, 2014.
Acute bronchitis (chest cold). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/URI/bronchitis.html. Updated September 13, 2013. Accessed February 14, 2014.
Smith S, Fahey T, et al. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;CD000245.
- Reviewer: David L Horn, MD, FACP
- Review Date: 02/2014
- Update Date: 02/14/2014