• Bronchitis

    (Acute Bronchitis; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection)


    Air passes to the lungs through airways called bronchi. Bronchitis is the swelling of the bronchi. It can make breathing difficult.
    Bronchi of Lungs
    lungs and bronchioles
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.
    There are different types of bronchitis such as:
    • Acute bronchitis—This is a sudden onset of symptoms. It only lasts a short time and lung function is fully recovered.
    • 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.


    The swelling in the bronchi may be caused by:
    • Viral or bacterial infections
    • Smoking (cigarettes or marijuana)
    • Breathing in certain irritants (usually in a work setting) such as:
      • Ammonia
      • Chlorine
      • Minerals
      • Vegetable dusts

    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
    • Poorly functioning immune system


    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.


    The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam.
    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


    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 Reyes 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 not be used in children less than 2 years old. The FDA also 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 supplementsPelargonium 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.


    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.


    American Lung Association http://www.lung.org

    Familydoctor.org http://familydoctor.org


    The Canadian Lung Association http://www.lung.ca

    The College of Family Physicians of Canada http://www.cfpc.ca


    Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated August 27, 2012. Accessed September 14, 2012.

    Know when antibiotics work: Bronchitis. Centers for Disease Control CDC website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/getsmart/antibiotic-use/URI/bronchitis.html. Updated May 1, 2012. Accessed September 14, 2012.

    Smith S, Fahey T, et al. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009;CD000245.

    1/4/2011 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us: Timmer A, Gunther J, Rucker G, Motschall E, Antes G, Kern WV. Pelargonium sidoides extract for acute respiratory tract infections. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2008;(3):CD006323.

    Nonprescription cough and cold medicine use in children. Medwatch: 2007 Safety Alerts for Drugs, Biologics, Medical Devices, and Dietary Supplements. US Food and Drug Administration website. Available at: http://www.fda.gov/Safety/MedWatch/SafetyInformation/SafetyAlertsforHumanMedicalProducts/ucm152691.htm. Accessed: September 4, 2007.

    Revision Information

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