Chest conditionsDisease, Condition & InjuryLungs


(Acute Bronchitis; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection)

Bronchitis – Definition

Air passes to the lungs through airways called bronchi. Bronchitis is swelling of the bronchi. It can make breathing difficult.

There are different types of bronchitis such as:

  • Acute bronchitis — This is a sudden onset of symptoms. It only lasts a short time with a full recovery of lung function.
  • Chronic bronchitis — This is a serious, long term condition. It causes blockage and damage of the lungs. It is often the result of many years of cigarette smoking.

This fact sheet focuses on acute bronchitis.

Bronchitis – Causes

The swelling in the bronchi may be caused by:

  • Viral or bacterial infections
  • Smoking (cigarettes or marijuana)
  • Breathing in certain irritants (usually in work setting) such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Vegetable dusts

Bronchitis – Risk Factors

Risk factors for bronchitis include:

  • Having a cold or flu
  • Contact with a person with a respiratory viral or bacterial infection
  • Smoking
  • Exposure to second-hand smoke
  • Asthma
  • Exposures to respiratory inhalants at work
  • Poor functioning immune system

Bronchitis – Symptoms

Symptoms of acute bronchitis may include:

  • Cough
  • Increased sputum production
  • Trouble breathing
  • Wheezing

You may also have other cold or flu symptoms such as slight fever, sore throat, and nasal congestion.

Bronchitis – Diagnosis

The doctor will ask 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 check for other conditions such as pneumonia
  • Sputum cultures to check for the presence of unusual bacteria

Bronchitis – Treatment

Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. Your doctor may recommend:

  • Ibuprofen or acetaminophen to treat pain and fever
    • Note : Aspirin is not recommended for children or teens with a current or recent viral infection. This is because of the risk of Reye’s syndrome. Ask your doctor which other medicines are safe for your child.
  • Expectorants or cough suppressants
    • There are some concerns about the safety of over-the-counter cough and cold products in children. The FDA recommends that these products should not be used in children less than 2 years old and supports not using them in children less than 4 years old.
  • Albuterol to help open airways if there are signs of breathing difficulty
  • Herbs and supplements — Pelargonium sidoides extract may help resolve symptoms in patients with acute bronchitis
  • Increased fluid intake
  • Cool mist humidifier — to ease breathing

Antibiotics will not be helpful if the infection is caused by a virus. Most of these infections are caused by viruses.

If you are diagnosed with bronchitis, follow your doctor’s instructions.

Bronchitis – Prevention

To reduce your chance of getting bronchitis:

  • Avoid contact with people who have respiratory viral or bacterial infections.
  • Stop smoking or never start.
  • Avoid passive smoke.
  • Avoid exposure to irritants in the air.

Related Articles

Back to top button