Acute Bronchitis

What is Acute Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is a medical condition in which the bronchial tubes, the tubes that transport air to the lungs, become inflamed and react similar to those of an asthmatic. When a person develops acute bronchitis, they will often cough up large amounts of brownish mucus, and they will develop an extremely heavy, persistent cough. Typically, the cough is what causes the person to seek medical treatment.

Mucus is a sticky, slippery substance that is developed in the lining of the bronchial tubes.

How is it developed?

Many people will develop acute bronchitis from the same exact virus that causes the common cold, or the flu. The germs are typically spread through the air when an infected person coughs. They can also be spread through physical contact on surfaces, especially when an infected person has not washed their hands and touches surfaces after coughing.

Who typically develops it?

  • Smokers
  • Women
  • People who frequently come into contact with chemical fumes and dust.

What are the Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis?

There are several symptoms which develop due to acute bronchitis. A constant cough is the main symptom of acute bronchitis and can remain for several weeks after the infection has been cleared up.

Symptoms include

  • A heavy cough
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up mucus
  • Chest pain
  • A fever
  • Breathlessness
  • Fatigue
  • Sore throat
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Runny nose

Who is likely to develop acute bronchitis?

Women, children, the elderly and smokers are more likely to develop it. An infection can last up to around 20 days although the coughing may continue for many weeks afterwards. Coughing up mucus that appears green or yellow is an indication that you might have a bacterial infection.

Acute Bronchitis Causes

Acute bronchitis is caused by the same virus behind colds and flus. It zeroes in on the lining of the bronchial tree, or the pathways by which air enters the lungs. The pathways swell, producing mucus to protect themselves. Catching a virus isn’t too difficult; viruses can be caught through airborne particles, via hand to object contact like doorknobs or shaking hands, even inhaling smoke from different sources, air pollution, fumes and dust. Did you know that heartburn can cause acute bronchitis if the acids remain in the chest for too long? It’s rare, but bacteria and fungal sources could also cause acute bronchitis.

How is Acute Bronchitis Treated?

Once it has been confirmed, the doctor will recommend that you drink plenty of liquids, get plenty of rest and prescribe Tylenol or ibuprofen for adults. Typically, antibiotics are not recommended when it comes to acute bronchitis as they are not effective against the viruses which cause acute bronchitis. If you do have a bacterial infection, then antibiotics might be prescribed.

In many cases, physicians prescribe the use of an inhaler to prevent overreaction of the airway, like you would see in an asthmatic. This helps to control the amount of coughing, but the cough will still be present. This is because it is the body’s reaction to mucus build up, and the only way it can be expelled from the respiratory system.

Acute Bronchitis Prevention

Bronchitis can’t be wholly prevented, but a few actions will make it more difficult for viruses to get hold of the bronchial tree. It doesn’t seem enough to say “stay healthy”¬Ě, but avoiding germs and toxic fumes and smokes will help people keep breathing clearly. Those who smoke will lower their risk of contracting it by quitting. The smoke irritates the lining of the bronchial tree, preventing it from healing and exposing it to harmful substances. For those likely to be in proximity to harmful fumes such as paints or paint thinners, some commercial preparations or the chemicals used in places like nail salons, wearing a face mask may help protect the lungs.

Since no one knows when a virus is planted on a doorknob, the counter of a store, a car’s steering wheel or the spatula in the kitchen, keeping hands clean is vital to preventing illnesses like bronchitis. A healthy diet also keeps the immune system strong enough to fight off any infections that could occur. It will also strengthen the body parts involved; for instance, onions help people breathe and cough up mucus, keeping the lungs clear.

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Last Reviewed:
September 11, 2016
Last Updated:
June 11, 2018