Acute Bronchitis

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is a short-term inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which carry air into the lungs. Viruses, bacteria or irritants can lead to inflammation of these airways, causing difficulties inhaling sufficient air. If the bronchitis infection is due to a virus it can easily be spread through the air by emitting droplets when talking or coughing or by other close physical contact. The main symptom includes a severe cough that produces mucus, a slimy substance that ranges in color.


Acute bronchitis is a common condition that can affect anyone at any age but the elderly and infants are at a slightly higher risk. Acute bronchitis is most often caused by the same viruses that cause a flu or a cold, and may come on following an episode of a cold or the flu. Sometimes a bacterial infection can lead to acute bronchitis.


Acute bronchitis usually begins with a productive cough which brings up mucus that may be white, yellow or green. Other symptoms may include wheezing, shortness of breath, mild fever and chest pain. Other flu-like symptoms like malaise, myalgia or sore throat may occur.


Diagnosis is made by assessing the symptoms and examining the sick person. Sometimes, a sample of mucus bought up by coughing can be tested to diagnose the specific virus or bacteria causing the infection.


Since most acute bronchitis is caused by a virus and not bacteria, treatment is geared toward relieving uncomfortable symptoms. Treatment may include medication to reduce coughing or lower fever, or anti-inflammatory medication (such as aspirin). Antibiotics are usually not part of the treatment regimen unless the condition has a likely bacterial source.


Taking care to prevent the spread of colds or the flu in the home and community can help prevent acute bronchitis.