Acute Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Fact-checked by Jeans Daquinag, MD

Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 30, 2021

    Acute Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

    Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes that results in coughs that often comes with mucus. Acute bronchitis is the most common type of bronchitis that usually goes away on its own. Let us dive into the acute bronchitis symptoms and what you should do to treat it.

    What is acute bronchitis?

    Acute bronchitis or a chest cold is a short-term health condition that occurs when there’s inflammation in the bronchial tubes in the lungs, as well as an increase in mucus production.

    A person with acute bronchitis experiences breathing problems and mild to nagging coughs as a result of the formation of mucus in the tubes. Acute bronchitis normally lasts for less than three weeks and is completely treatable at home.

    Acute bronchitis symptoms

    You might have acute bronchitis if you experience the following symptoms:

    • Mild to nagging cough (dry cough in the beginning but will eventually produce mucus)
    • Runny nose and watery eyes
    • Sore throat
    • Headache and fatigue
    • Muscle and/or body ache
    • Chest soreness
    • Shortness of breath
    • Low-grade fever
    • Wheezing

    Take note that acute bronchitis symptoms vary from person-to-person. An individual may have more symptoms than the other and vice versa. Also, these symptoms might be an indication of other health problems. Thus, it is advisable to consult a doctor for a proper diagnosis.

    There are instances when a person with acute bronchitis does not get better after three weeks. It is advisable to get immediate medical attention when a person experiences the following:

    • Low-grade fever (37.5℃ to 38.3℃) suddenly increases to a high-grade fever (39.4℃ and above)
    • Persistent cough or wheezing that lasts for more than three weeks
    • Expels blood or bloody mucus when coughing
    • Recurring episodes of acute bronchitis (can be a warning sign of chronic bronchitis)
    • Severe shortness of breath
    • Acute bronchitis symptoms worsen instead of improving

    What causes acute bronchitis?

    Acute bronchitis usually occurs due to a viral infection. Most of the time, the same viruses that set off the common cold and flu also prompt acute bronchitis.

    At times, bacterial infections from Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Bordetella pertussis can also trigger acute bronchitis.

    Aside from viruses and bacteria, the following can also cause acute bronchitis:

    • Respiratory irritants like tobacco smoke, dust, strong fumes from chemicals at work or cleaning compounds at home
    • A rare fungal infection commonly caused by yeast fungus candida Albicans
    • Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) can irritate and damage the airways, resulting in acute bronchitis

    Is acute bronchitis contagious?

    Certain conditions like a viral infection make acute bronchitis contagious. The respiratory droplets the body expels when someone with acute bronchitis speaks, coughs, or sneezes can infect other individuals in close proximity. The virus can also transfer from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact like shaking hands.

    How is it diagnosed?

    Doctors can easily diagnose acute bronchitis by doing a physical examination as well as certain tests such as chest x-rays, pulse oximetry, and sputum culture. These tests not only diagnose bronchitis, but they also help doctors rule out pneumonia and other severe respiratory conditions.

    Treatment and management

    Usually, acute bronchitis resolves on its own and does not usually require the use of antibiotics since its most common cause is a viral infection.

    To help alleviate symptoms and to recover faster, here are some tips on how to treat acute bronchitis at home:

    • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
    • Get plenty of sleep and rest
    • Limit or avoid caffeine and alcohol, as these can worsen your symptoms
    • Quit smoking and/or steer away from secondhand smoke
    • Avoid other respiratory irritants such as dust and strong fumes by wearing a face mask
    • Use a humidifier at home to loosen and clear mucus build-up
    • Take over-the-counter medications like cough medicines and pain relievers
    • Refrain from holding in coughs and expel sputum as much as possible
    • Use saline sprays, inhalers, or steam to relieve a stuffy nose
    • Make sure to get your seasonal flu shot or ask your doctor if you need to update your pneumococcal vaccine

    If these home treatments fail to ease your symptoms, consult a doctor right away for proper treatment and medications.

    Key takeaways

    Acute bronchitis is a common health condition that anyone can experience. Although it normally heals over a short period, it is still advisable to treat it promptly to prevent further complications.

    Keep in mind that acute bronchitis is contagious and can be passed on from person-to-person. Thus, it is important to be aware of your surroundings to keep other people from developing the same condition.

    Learn more about Bronchitis, here.

    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Fact-checked by

    Jeans Daquinag, MD

    Written by Mayvilyn Cabigao · Updated Jun 30, 2021