Acute Bronchitis

What is acute bronchitis?

Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These airways are called bronchi. This inflammation causes increased mucus production and other changes. There are several different types of bronchitis. But the most common are acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis may also be called a chest cold.

Most symptoms of acute bronchitis last for up to 2 weeks. The cough can last for up to 8 weeks in some people. Chronic bronchitis lasts a long time. It is more common among smokers.

What causes acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is often caused by a viral infection. This is most often the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection. Or by physical or chemical agents that are breathed in. These may include dusts, allergens, and strong fumes, including those from chemical cleaning compounds or tobacco smoke.

Acute bronchitis may come after a common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in people with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. It can be serious in people with lung or heart diseases. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms of acute bronchitis. However, each person may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Back and muscle pain
  • Cough, first dry (nonproductive), but later with a lot of mucus
  • Chest soreness
  • Chills
  • Feeling tired and achy
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Slight fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Wheezing

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may look like other conditions or health problems. Talk with a healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Healthcare providers can often diagnose acute bronchitis by taking a health history and doing a physical exam. Tests may be done to rule out other diseases such as pneumonia or asthma. Any of these tests may be used to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • Chest X-rays. A test that uses invisible radiation beams to make images of internal tissues, bones, and organs, including the lungs.
  • Arterial blood gas. This blood test is used to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To get this measurement, a small sensor is taped or clipped on a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.
  • Cultures of nasal discharge and sputum. Testing the sputum you cough up or swab from your nose may be done. This helps find and identify the microorganism causing the infection.
  • Pulmonary function tests. These are tests that help to measure how well the lungs move air in and out. The tests are often done with special machines that you breathe into.