(Acute Bronchitis; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection)En Español (Spanish Version)
Air passes to the lungs through airways called bronchi. Bronchitis is swelling of the bronchi. It can make breathing difficult.
Bronchi of Lungs
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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.
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:
- Vegetable dusts
Risk factors for bronchitis include:
Symptoms of acute bronchitis may include:
- Increased sputum production
- Trouble breathing
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. 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:
Treatment is aimed at relieving the symptoms. Your doctor may recommend:
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 .
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.
Canadian Family Physician
The Canadian Lung Association
Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated June 28, 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, Smucny J, Becker L. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2009;CD000245.
6/4/2007 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : 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/medwatch/safety/2007/safety07.htm#Cough . Accessed: September 4, 2007.
10/14/2008 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance : 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.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian P Randall, MD
Last updated Updated: 9/13/2012
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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