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Bronchitis

Shot of a young doctor analysing an x ray of a patient’s chest
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways of the lungs. This inflammation results in thickening of the airway lining, which causes excessive mucus secretion. The mucus blocks airflow through the lungs and leads to the symptoms of cough and malaise that are frequently referred to as a “chest cold.”

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is broadly classified into two types:

Acute Bronchitis

The onset of acute bronchitis is sudden and over a few days. It is usually caused by an infection like the common cold or flu. Acute bronchitis typically resolves in under three weeks.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis lasts more than three months. It is a common underlying problem in individuals whose lungs have been inflamed for years, such as smokers.

Signs and Symptoms

The common sign and symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • Persistent cough with green or yellow sputum
  • Low-grade fever
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest discomfort
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Noisy breathing such as wheezing or whistling

These symptoms will resolve in acute bronchitis but will recur in chronic bronchitis.

Causes

Infection from one of many respiratory viruses is the leading cause of bronchitis. Most cases of acute bronchitis start with a cold virus colonizing the nose and throat that spreads subsequently to the airways.

Breathing air that contains irritants, such as chemical fumes (ammonia), acid fumes, dust, or smoke is also another cause of airway inflammation leading to bronchitis.

Diagnosis

Bronchitis is most commonly diagnosed based on the history and symptoms associated with the illness. In some cases, other illnesses need to be ruled out. In these cases, a medical provider may order additional tests such as:

  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray may show pneumonia or another condition that may explain the cough.
  • Sputum tests. A sputum test is carried out to Determine specific viral or bacterial causes of infection
  • Pulmonary function test. This test checks for signs of asthma or emphysema.

Treatment

The treatment for bronchitis is typically focused on relieving the symptoms and helping a person heal more quickly.

Symptom management

For symptomatic relief, antitussives, expectorants, and inhaler medications can all be used depending on a person’s history and preferences. Fever can be addressed with acetaminophen and body aches are usually helped by ibuprofen.

Antibiotic treatment

Antibiotics should not be commonly used to treat acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is most frequently due to viral illness and antibiotics are not effective against viruses. Additionally, inappropriate antibiotic use can lead to gastrointestinal problems and antibiotic resistance.

Complementary and Alternative therapies

Some patients use nonprescription, alternative medications for the relief of bronchitis symptoms. Scientific studies are ongoing in regards to complimentary medicine. Complimentary therapies may be useful, but should be used with caution. If you have questions about specific approaches, you can ask your medical provider.

Contact us

In case of urgent medical care assistance, AfterOurs Urgent Care offers immediate telemedicine services, where medical providers are available to offer assistance. Anyone who experiences signs and symptoms requiring urgent medical attention can simply book their appointment with AfterOurs Urgent Care to directly talk to an expert. If your medical issue is not appropriate for telemedicine, we will let you know and refer you to an in-person facility.

When to visit a doctor:

If you notice symptoms of bronchitis including fever, chest discomfort, or wheezing, you should see a medical practitioner to rule out serious infection. This will help guide treatment and reduce the spread of the disease.

Treatment for bronchitis is available at AfterOurs Urgent Care.