Acute bronchitis

Do you feel symptoms of a cold or the flu and have a deep, wet cough? You may be suffering from acute bronchitis. Do you need to see a doctor? Do you need antibiotics? Read more to find out.

What is bronchitis?

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).


Bronchitis symptoms

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:

  • a deep cough, accompanied by clear or coloured phlegm
  • chest discomfort
  • more rarely, fatigue, headaches, chills and muscle pain

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.

How to prevent acute bronchitis?

Some simple measures can help prevent respiratory infections:

  • Avoid irritants like cigarette smoke.
  • Get your annual flu shot.
  • Make sure you wash your hands frequently to avoid spreading germs.

How to treat acute bronchitis

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.

  • In general, you should rest until you feel better.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, unless your doctor tells you otherwise. Drinking liquids helps your body clear bronchial secretions.
  • To relieve fever and pain, you can take acetaminophen or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen).
  • If your cough disrupts your sleep, ask your pharmacist about whether dextromethorphan or another cough medicine is right for you.

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.

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