Acute bronchitis refers to inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi. Bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, but it can also be caused by bacteria. In both cases, the condition is called acute infectious bronchitis. Bronchitis may also be caused by something other than an infection. It can be triggered or aggravated by an irritant (e.g., cigarette smoke, pollution, allergens).
Acute infectious bronchitis is usually preceded by signs of infection in the upper airways, such as those caused by a cold or the flu, followed by other symptoms:
Fever is generally absent during a viral infection, but a low-grade fever is possible.
Conversely, a high fever or persistent and greenish phlegm may indicate a bacterial infection. You should consult a doctor in this case. If you have shortness of breath or cough up blood, you need to see a doctor right away. You need to avoid the risk of pneumonia, which is a possible complication of bronchitis.
Repeated bronchitis infections are associated with the development of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). You should see a doctor, as this health problem, which mainly affects smokers, requires long-term treatment and follow-up.
Some simple measures can help prevent respiratory infections:
In most cases, acute bronchitis is viral, which means that antibiotics won’t work. Symptoms usually improve after a few days, although a cough may persist for several weeks. In general, bronchitis lasts between 2 and 3 weeks. Viral bronchitis won’t go away more quickly than that, but treatment for your specific condition can relieve your symptoms.
If you have severe symptoms or if you aren't sure about the cause of your bronchitis, see your pharmacist or doctor to find out if you need antibiotics.