Bronchitis Overview

Bronchitis is a respiratory illness that involves an inflammation of the mucus membranes of the bronchi, the airways that flow from the trachea to the deeper portions of the lung.

Acute bronchitis often is a result of influenza, a virus, or a common cold. Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and is produced by repeated irritation to the lungs; the most common cause of chronic bronchitis is tobacco use, although inhaled pollutants and genetic factors can also cause it. Asthma sufferers may also experience asthmatic bronchitis, an acute inflammation of the bronchi as the result of a series of severe asthma attacks.


The symptoms of acute bronchitis include an irritation at the back of the throat, a dry cough that may become productive (a cough that produces mucus), fatigue and a mild fever (101° F), chest discomfort, tightness, shortness of breath, and hoarseness or whistling in the chest. Acute bronchitis often follows a chest infection as the result of a virus or cold and lasts from two to three weeks. A fever above 101° F often indicates pneumonia, particularly when accompanied by shaking chills and nausea or vomiting.

Chronic bronchitis is indicated by a long-term cough that lasts at least three months out of the year over two years, shortness of breath , chest pain, and heavy sputum production. A productive cough in the winter months is one of the earliest signs of chronic bronchitis. Wheezing and frequent respiratory infections also often indicate COPD.

Asthma, a chronic inflammatory disease of the lungs, can also cause asthmatic bronchitis when there is excessive swelling in the airways and the muscles around the airways tighten, further restricting airflow. The same inhaled irritants that trigger asthmatic bronchitis also cause general asthma; however, and the symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis combines those of asthma and bronchitis, including a productive cough, tightness, and pain in the chest, wheezing, and shortness of breath. Asthmatic bronchitis is rarely accompanied by a fever.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Treatment of acute bronchitis rarely involves other tests; a doctor easily diagnoses it by listening to chest sounds and performing a physical exam. Treatment with antibiotics is generally unnecessary for acute bronchitis; the best remedies include rest, fluids, cough syrup to help release phlegm and quiet the cough, and the avoidance of inhaled irritants such as tobacco smoke.

Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed through a combination of chest x-rays, a measuring of blood oxygen saturation levels, and a pulmonary function test. Treatment for chronic bronchitis usually includes an oral steroid, an inhaled bronchodilator to reduce inflammation, and, in the later stages of the disease, supplemental oxygen. Because the lungs become vulnerable to infection, it is recommended that patients with chronic bronchitis get a yearly flu shot and pneumonia vaccine.

Asthmatic bronchitis is treated through inhaled corticosteroids, a short-acting bronchodilator, and an avoidance of asthma triggers such as tobacco smoke, allergens, and pet dander. Washing bedding, using a HEPA filter in the home air supply system, and regularly vacuuming and dusting in the house are also recommended.

Last Updated: November 07, 2016