Bronchitis is a medical condition that affects the bronchial tubes. These tubes are passageways that bring air to the lungs. With acute bronchitis, the lining of the tubes is inflamed. Acute bronchitis is a common disease, and often starts with a cold. Acute bronchitis often improves in several days without medical attention.
The most common symptom is coughing that lasts for 10 to 20 days. In about half the cases, the cough may also produce mucus that is clear or discolored. Other symptoms include wheezing, shortness of breath, sore throat, nasal congestion, chest discomfort, fatigue, and a low-grade fever. With acute bronchitis, once the inflammation is gone, you may still find yourself coughing for a few more weeks.
The main cause of acute bronchitis is viruses. These are often the same viruses that cause a cold or the flu. The viruses include the rhinovirus, RSV, Influenza, and corona viruses. Bacteria also cause acute bronchitis, but not as often. The most common bacteria include Streptococcus, Chlamydia pneumonia, and Mycoplasma. Other less common causes of acute bronchitis are cigarette smoke, air pollution, fumes, and dust.
Acute bronchitis is contagious if the disease is caused by a virus or bacterium. Coming into contact with people coughing or sneezing can spread the disease. Handling items touched recently by infected people can increase your risk of getting acute bronchitis. This is why frequent hand washing is so important. People are more susceptible to acute bronchitis if they smoke or live with a smoker, have a cold, or a compromised immune system.
Most people have a mild or moderate case of acute bronchitis. If a person seeks medical treatment, the doctor will take a medical history and do a physical exam. Only if a person has a severe case of acute bronchitis, and it is important to determine the cause, are other tests done. These tests include a throat culture, chest X-ray, and sputum (mucus) test.
Antibiotics help if bacteria caused the acute bronchitis. Otherwise, getting rest and drinking more fluids can help you to feel better. Over-the-counter cough medications can reduce coughing. For a fever and aches, you can take acetaminophen or NSAID’s.
A good home remedy is using a humidifier. Breathing in warm, moist air will help with the symptoms. If possible, avoid caffeine, alcohol, and dairy products.
For most people, acute bronchitis is a self-limiting disease, like a cold. However, if you have frequent bouts of acute bronchitis, you should see your doctor.