What is Acute Bronchitis?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Acute bronchitis is defined by an inflammation of the airways and bronchial tubes. It is a common complication of an upper respiratory infection and usually clears without major problems. Acute bronchitis is distinct from chronic bronchitis because it is a temporary condition with an immediate cause; chronic bronchitis is an ongoing or repeating condition that is often caused by long-term habits such as smoking.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis are varied and often present as a simple cold or flu. Patients may notice increased fatigue or shortness of breath, fevers, runny nose, sore throat, and a general feeling of exhaustion or illness. One of the most common signs that an illness has turned into bronchitis is the appearance of a chest cough, which may produce yellow or green mucus. The chest may also feel tight or uncomfortable.

There are many things that can increase chances of developing acute bronchitis. People who smoke, have asthma, or are exposed to high levels of air pollution or industrial fumes may be more likely to develop bronchial inflammation. Getting a cold can lower immune resistance, making a person more subject than normal to getting bronchitis. Children and the elderly have less effective immune systems in general, making them somewhat more susceptible as well.


Most of the time, simple acute bronchitis will clear up without assistance beyond over-the-counter symptom relievers. In some cases, however, bronchitis can develop into a more serious condition such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is a serious inflammation of the lungs and can be dangerous or even fatal if not treated correctly. If symptoms have lasted more than two weeks or are getting worse, it may be time to visit a doctor to check for pneumonia or other similar illnesses. People who have weakened immune systems or those with a long history of susceptibility to bronchitis may wish to consult a doctor sooner.

Treating acute bronchitis is usually simply a matter of symptom relief that allows comfort while giving the body rest. Those who are having trouble sleeping due to coughing fits may be given cough suppressants to take at night. Some doctors may also recommend expectorants, which make coughs more productive and help eliminate phlegm from the airways and clear the infection. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics for acute bronchitis, but they do not always work. Since the illness can be viral in nature, antibiotics are not always effective and generally used sparingly.


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