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Your bronchial tubes are responsible for delivering air to your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. The coughing and shortness of breath this causes is known as bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually occurs due to a viral chest infection. Several types of viruses can cause it. Approximately 5 percent of adults report having acute bronchitis annually, and acute bronchitis is the ninth most common reason why adults visit their doctors.
It’s important to distinguish acute bronchitis from chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually lasts less than 10 days. However, the coughing can continue for several weeks while the inflammation is clearing. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can last for several weeks and usually comes back. This is more common in people with asthma or emphysema.
Acute bronchitis could be contagious if the virus that causes it is contagious.
The symptoms of acute bronchitis aren’t specific. They mimic symptoms of other conditions, such as:
Therefore, acute bronchitis must always be diagnosed by a doctor.
Common symptoms of acute bronchitis include:
Children with acute bronchitis may experience:
If you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor:
The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a lower respiratory viral infection. Both the common cold and influenza can lead to acute bronchitis. In rare cases, the bacterium that causes whooping cough can also cause acute bronchitis. This bacterium is called Bordetella pertussis.
While anyone can develop acute bronchitis, certain risk factors can make you more likely to get it.
Risk factors for acute bronchitis include:
Older adults and those who are immunocompromised should take special care to avoid infectious illnesses and adopt preventive measures, like regular hand-washing, as they’re highly susceptible to developing acute bronchitis.
In many cases, acute bronchitis will go away without treatment. A physical examination may be the only thing your doctor needs to do to diagnose your condition. During the physical exam, your doctor will listen to your lungs as you breathe. They’ll also you ask about coughing, at night, whether your cough produces mucus, or whether you have other problems breathing. They may also ask about recent colds or viruses.
Blood tests, X-rays, or cultures usually aren’t necessary. However, if your doctor is uncertain about your diagnosis, they may suggest additional testing. Tests might also be necessary if your doctor thinks you have a secondary infection.
You may think you need antibiotics to treat your bronchitis. However, antibiotics cannot treat viral bronchitis or any viral infection.
Only rarely can prescription medications treat the cause of viral bronchitis. However, certain home remedies can relieve the symptoms:
Although prescriptions are not normally used for acute bronchitis, talk to your doctor if you are wheezing or having trouble breathing. They can prescribe inhaled medication to open your airways.
Like those who are older and those who have compromised immune systems, children are also more likely to develop acute bronchitis than the average adult.
This is partially due to risk factors specific to them, which may include:
Symptoms that children with acute bronchitis will be likely to have include:
Acute bronchitis treatment for children may be different than treatment plans prescribed to adults. Most treatment will be focused on relieving symptoms the child is experiencing. Treatments include:
You shouldn’t give OTC medications to children younger than 6 years old without a doctor’s approval. You shouldn’t give them cough medications without a doctor’s approval either, as they may not be safe.
The symptoms of acute bronchitis usually clear up within a few weeks. Occasionally, secondary infections can make it take longer to heal.
Acute bronchitis rarely has long-term health implications.
When you’re around people with acute bronchitis, avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes. These body parts are very susceptible to infection. You should also practice good hygiene. Wash your hands regularly and thoroughly, particularly during cold season. This can help you avoid viral infections.
If you’re frequently exposed to dust, chemical fumes, or other pollution that could increase your change of developing acute bronchitis, limit exposure as much as possible. Wear a mask if necessary to prevent inhaling debris.
Make sure that you’re well-rested, as this can help fight off infections that can lead to bronchitis.
In addition to these prevention methods, you can also make several lifestyle changes to prevent bronchitis. These include:
There’s no way to completely prevent acute bronchitis because it has a variety of causes. You can help decrease your risk by getting the pneumonia vaccine, PPSV23, and the whooping cough vaccine. Getting a yearly flu shot can also help prevent acute bronchitis.
Written by: April Khan, Ana Gotter and Elizabeth Boskey, PhD
Published on: Jul 16, 2012
Medically reviewed on: Jul 14, 2016: [Ljava.lang.Object;@413c8f3e
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