Bronchitis is an
inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the part of the respiratory system that
leads into the lungs. There are two types of bronchitis — acute bronchitis
and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually appears after a respiratory
infection, such as a cold, and can be caused by either a virus or bacteria. Chronic
bronchitis does not have a sudden onset and is most frequently caused by
long-term irritation of the bronchial tubes. A case if bronchitis is considered
chronic if symptoms continue for 3 months or longer. Bronchitis caused by allergies
can also be classified as chronic bronchitis.
Asthma is sometimes under diagnosed, especially in children under 5 years
old. Their asthma is sometimes labeled as bronchitis or wheezy bronchitis.
Although not all wheezes and coughs are caused by asthma, asthma should be
considered whenever there is episodic, chronic, or recurrent cough or wheezing
without a clear reason — especially in children.
What are the symptoms of acute
- Painful cough
- Sore throat
- Production of thick, yellow mucus
- Shortness of breath or wheezing
What causes acute bronchitis?
Bronchitis results from an infection such as a cold or flu. The infection
inflames the bronchial tubes, which causes the symptoms of bronchitis. Although
acute bronchitis is relatively common, some people are more prone to it than
others. People at a higher risk include smokers, individuals with respiratory
illnesses such as asthma, and individuals exposed to high levels of airborne
Is acute bronchitis dangerous?
Although bronchitis itself is not dangerous, the infection that causes the
bronchitis may progress further into pneumonia. Bronchitis also may aggravate
the symptoms of asthma or other breathing disorders. If a young child shows
signs of bronchitis, consult a doctor, who may watch for any serious developments.
How is acute bronchitis treated?
The treatment of acute bronchitis depends on what caused it. Antibiotics can
be used to treat bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection, but are completely
ineffective for bronchitis caused by a virus. In children, bronchitis or nonspecific
cough rarely warrants antibiotics. Occasionally, if a cough has lasted more
than 10 days and specific bacteria are suspected, a round of antibiotics may
help. (Antibiotics do NOT help treat asthma flare-ups, although they may help
some other lung diseases.)
Treatment of the bronchitis symptoms often includes pain relievers for sore
throat, fever-reducing medications, cough suppressants, and humid air to ease
dryness and cough. Check with your doctor before taking medications to reduce
a cough. Cough suppressants may be recommended for nighttime use to enable
a good night's sleep, but may be discouraged during the day to allow the body
to cough out the mucus.
Can acute bronchitis be avoided?
For individuals who frequently develop acute bronchitis, the best way to avoid
the illness is to avoid contracting colds or other respiratory infections.
To do this, wash your hands frequently, avoid people with respiratory infections,
and eat and sleep well. Smokers are encouraged to stop smoking, since they
have a higher risk of developing both acute and chronic bronchitis.
In children, one of the most important steps is to keep them from breathing second-hand
National Asthma Education and Prevention Program Expert Panel Report: guidelines
for the diagnosis and management of asthma update on selected topics -- 2002. J
Allergy Clin Immunol. 2002 Nov;110(Suppl 5):S141-219.
Review Date: 5/16/2007
Reviewed By: Alan Greene, M.D., F.A.A.P., Department of Pediatrics, Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford University School of Medicine; Chief Medical Officer, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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