Bronchitis: Symptoms, Causes, & Treatment


What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is the swelling and inflammation of the bronchial tubes which are the air passages that link the nose and mouth with the lungs. People with bronchitis usually cough up thickened mucus which can be discolored. Bronchitis can either be acute or chronic. Some symptoms of bronchitis include difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, a cough, and wheezing. People may also have trouble clearing heavy mucus or phlegm from their airways.

Types of Bronchitis

Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis lasts for a precise length of time. It most times follows a pattern that is similar to a viral infection such as a cold or the flu, and it may occur from the same virus.
Sufferers may have symptoms such as:

  • Cough with or without mucus
  • Chest congestion or soreness
  • Fever
  • A mild headache and body aches
  • Shortness of breath

Usually, these symptoms leave after a few days or weeks.

Chronic Bronchitis

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis are similar to that of acute bronchitis, but it is a constant illness. A person who has chronic bronchitis may suffer a daily, productive cough for at least 3 months of the year, or 2 or more years in a row. According to the National Library of Medicine, chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) in which the bronchial tubes yield a lot of mucus. It either does not go away, goes away, or worsens and keeps on reoccurring.

Symptoms of Bronchitis

Someone with bronchitis will experience a persistent cough, a sore throat, and a fever. Here are signs and symptoms of acute and chronic bronchitis:

  • A persistent cough, which may produce mucus that is clear, yellow, white, or green
  • Wheezing
  • Low fever and chills
  • A feeling of tightness in the chest
  • A sore throat
  • Feeling tired
  • Runny and stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Headaches
  • A blocked nose and sinuses

An individual with bronchitis may have a cough that can last several weeks or even a few months if the bronchial tubes take a long period to heal fully. The symptoms of chronic bronchitis can increase regularly, and for most people, it occurs during the cold months. Most times, bronchitis may not be the only cause for a cough; other causes may be a sign of pneumonia, asthma, and various other respiratory conditions.

Causes of Acute Bronchitis

  • A virus, for instance, a flu virus or a cold
  • Bacterial infection
  • Exposure to substances that irritate the lungs, such as vapors, dust, fumes, tobacco smoke, and air pollution

People have a high risk of developing acute bronchitis if they smoke or inhale secondhand smoke, or are asthmatic, or have an allergy.

Causes of Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis results from continuous damage and irritation to the lungs and airway tissues. The most common cause is smoking. Other possible causes of bronchitis are:

  • Exposure to air pollution, dust, and fumes from the environment
  • Genetic factors
  • Weak immune system. This is often the case in older adults, babies, and young children.
  • If you are a female smoker, you are more at risk than a male smoker
  • Repeated occurrence of acute bronchitis
  • A history of respiratory diseases or other related conditions
  • Exposure to pesticides may also increase the risk

Bronchitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection, so it is possible that the infection is transmitted through droplets when coughing. To reduce the risk of passing on an infection, here are measures you can take:

  • Ensure you wash your hands often and properly
  • When you cough, use a tissue or face towel to cover your mouth

How to Treat Bronchitis


  • Take a rest
  • Drink lots of fluids
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications, such as ibuprofen, aspirin, and naproxen
  • Taking OTC medications will help relieve pain

Sometimes, acute bronchitis goes away, without treatment. Here are some other treatments options:

Cough Medicine

Medication can bring relief to cough that affects the chest.

Consume Honey

Taking 2 spoonfuls of honey may bring relief of cough symptoms.

Use a Humidifier

This will help loosen mucus, improve airflow, and relieve wheezing.

Use a Bronchodilators

This opens up the bronchial tubes and clears out mucus.

Use a Mucolytic

This can help loosen mucus in the airways, which makes it easier to cough up sputum.

Anti-Inflammatory and Steroid Drugs

These are helpful in reducing inflammation which can cause tissue damage.

Oxygen Therapy

In severe cases, a person may need additional oxygen to ease their breathing.

Behavioral Remedies for Bronchitis

  • Stop consuming lung irritants such as tobacco
  • Exercise regularly to help strengthen the chest muscles to help to breathe
  • Improve breathing techniques through pulmonary rehabilitation
  • Take breathing exercises such as pursed-lip breathing to help slow down breathing and make it more effective

How to Diagnose Bronchitis

Your doctor may do a physical examination with a stethoscope to listen for unusual sounds in your lungs. Other steps may include:

  • Asking for your symptoms
  • Inquiring on your medical history
  • Ask about recent sessions of cold or flu
  • Ask whether you smoke
  • Ask about exposure to secondhand smoke, dust, fumes, or air pollution

The doctor may also:

  • Conduct a lung function test
  • Test the mucus to help determine diseases caused by bacteria
  • Check the oxygen levels in the individual’s blood
  • Run a pulmonary and lung function test, chest X-ray, and other blood tests

Acute Bronchitis in Children

crying childChildren are more likely than adults to suffer acute bronchitis. This is due in part to risk factors that solely affect them, some of which are:

  • Higher viral exposure in places like schools and playgrounds
  • Asthma
  • Allergies
  • Sinusitis that lasts a long time
  • Tonsils enlargement
  • Dust and other material inhaled

Acute bronchitis symptoms in children are very similar to those in adults. As a result, the treatment is relatively similar.  In addition to the symptoms indicated above, call your doctor if children experience any of the following:

  • Unexplained Weight loss
  • A deep, sneezing cough
  • Breathing problems
  • Chest discomfort
  • A temperature of at least 100.4°F (38°C)
  • A cough that persists for more than ten days

Even with medication, your cough can continue a few weeks longer. As the days pass, it should grow milder and dryer. You will also feel weary for a longer period of time. Make a plan to rest. You shouldn’t expect to be full of energy immediately.
Consult your doctor if your cough does not improve and you continue to feel ill. After all, it could be a bacterial infection. You can also be suffering from additional breathing issues that are preventing you from recovering from your acute bronchitis.

Complications of Bronchitis

The most common complication of bronchitis is pneumonia. This occurs when the infection spreads into the lungs. In a person with pneumonia, the air sacs within the lungs are filled with fluid. Pneumonia usually develops in older adults, smokers, those with other medical conditions, and anyone with a weakened immune system. It can be life-threatening and may require urgent medical attention.

Most people with bronchitis often recover at home with rest, anti-inflammatory medication, and plenty of fluids. Sufferers who experience these symptoms should see a doctor:

  • Symptoms that go on for more than three weeks
  • Fever that lasts three days or more
  • Rapid breathing, chest pains, or both
  • Blood in the mucus
  • Drowsiness or confusion
  • Recurring or worsening symptoms

Also, if you have an existing lung or heart condition, don’t hesitate to see a doctor if you start to have symptoms of bronchitis.

How to Prevent Bronchitis

  • Avoid or quit smoking
  • Avoid things that irritate the lungs, such as smoke, dust, fumes, vapors, and air pollution
  • Wear a mask to cover the nose and mouth when pollution levels are high
  • Wash your hands often to limit exposure to germs and bacteria
  • Ask about vaccinations to protect you from pneumonia and the flu

Now that you Know…

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes. It can be mild (acute) bronchitis which is a common condition that can make an individual uncomfortable, but it will usually resolve on its own within a few days and it can be severe (chronic) bronchitis which is a continuous condition. People who smoke may suffer worsening symptoms such as emphysema and COPD. These conditions can be life-threatening. See a doctor if you have symptoms of bronchitis.