What Is Acute Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tree (airways). When these airways get infected, they swell and mucus is produced. This makes it harder for you to breathe. You may cough up mucus and wheeze.

What Causes Acute Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is almost always caused by viruses that attack the lining of the airway and cause infection. As your body fights back, more swelling and mucus production occurs. It takes time for your body to kill the viruses and heal the inflammation to your airways.

In most cases, the same viruses that cause colds cause acute bronchitis. Research has shown that bacterial infection is much less common in bronchitis than we used to think. Very rarely, an infection caused by a fungus can cause acute bronchitis.

How Do People Get Acute Bronchitis?

The viruses that cause acute bronchitis are sprayed into the air or onto people’s hands when they cough. You can get acute bronchitis if you breathe in these viruses or touch a hand that has virus particles on it.

If you smoke or are around damaging fumes, you are more likely to get acute bronchitis and to have it longer because your airways are already inflamed.

How Is Acute Bronchitis Treated?

Most cases of acute bronchitis will go away on their own after a few days or a week. Since the illness is most often caused by viruses, antibiotics (medicines that kill bacteria) usually do not help. Even if you cough up mucus that is colored or thick, antibiotics probably won’t help you get better any faster.

If you smoke, it is important to cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke or stop smoking altogether. This will help your airways heal faster.

It is also important to drink plenty of fluids (especially water and juice) to help thin down the mucus and make it easier to clear out of your airways.

For some people with acute bronchitis, doctors prescribe medicines that are usually used to treat asthma. These medicines can help open the airways and clear out the mucus.

How Long Will the Cough From Acute Bronchitis Last?

Sometimes the cough from acute bronchitis lasts for several weeks or months. If the virus is especially damaging it can take this long for the airways to return to normal. However, a cough that doesn’t go away may be a sign of another problem, like asthma or pneumonia.

You should call your doctor if:

  • You develop a fever >100 or have chills, body aches, or weakness.

  • You have difficulty breathing.

  • You continue to wheeze and cough, especially at night or when you are active.

  • You cough up blood.

How Can I Keep From Getting Acute Bronchitis Again?

If you smoke, the best defense against acute bronchitis is to quit. Smoking damages your airways and makes it easier for viruses to cause infection. Another way to keep from getting acute bronchitis is to wash your hands often to get rid of any viruses. You can fight off viral infections better if you get an adequate amount of sleep (8 hours/night).