Acute Bronchitis

Last Updated: January 19, 2023

Acute bronchitis, also known as a chest cold, is caused by an infection (usually a virus) that leads to inflammation and mucus production in the large airways of the lungs. Symptoms of acute bronchitis include coughing, chest soreness, fatigue, headache, body aches, and a sore throat. Most cases of acute bronchitis resolve without treatment.

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Acute Bronchitis falls under theLungs & BreathingandImmunity & Infectious Diseasecategories.

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is a lower respiratory tract infection in which the bronchial tubes, the larger airway of the lungs, become inflamed and filled with mucus. Viral infections account for the majority of acute bronchitis cases, whereas bacterial infections are uncommon. Upper respiratory tract infections, like the common cold, can sometimes lead to acute bronchitis.[1][2]

What are the main signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

Coughing, with or without mucus, is the predominant symptom of acute bronchitis. The cough usually lasts 10–20 days but may last up to 4 weeks, even after resolution of the primary infection itself. Chest discomfort, nasal congestion, mild shortness of breath, malaise, headache, and fatigue are other common symptoms.[2]

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

A healthcare professional makes the diagnosis of acute bronchitis based on a history and physical exam, which may include listening to the lungs with a stethoscope and measuring oxygen levels with a sensor placed on a finger. During this assessment, other possible conditions (e.g., pneumonia or COPD) should be ruled out. Chest x-rays and microbiological testing are not necessary to make the diagnosis of acute bronchitis, although they may be used if abnormal vital signs are present (such as increased heart rate, breathing, and fever), if there are signs of fluid in the lungs, and in at-risk populations (e.g., the elderly and immunocompromised.[3]

What are some of the main medical treatments for acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis usually resolves on its own. Simple interventions, like getting enough rest, consuming honey (if over the age of one), and using saline nasal sprays, cough drops, and/or a humidifier, can relieve some discomfort. However, medications to treat symptoms may be prescribed.

Coughing is often treated with antitussive medications (cough suppressants) such as dextromethorphan; however, some research suggests that it may be less effective than honey at relieving coughing.[4] Some small studies have found that albuterol inhalers may be helpful for treating cough,[5][6] but clinical guidelines only recommended their use in people with a history of wheezing or bronchial obstruction.[7][3] For pain and fever, acetaminophen or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (e.g., ibuprofen) may be used. Lastly, expectorants (drugs that thin and loosen mucus) such as guaifenesin can help clear mucus from the lungs. Antibiotics are not recommended for acute bronchitis, since most cases are caused by a virus,[8] and the risks and costs of these medications usually outweigh any of the minor benefits they provide.[9]

It is important to note that medical treatments differ across populations and may change depending on a person’s age and/or co-occurring conditions. For example, antihistamine and antitussive medications are not indicated for use in children under the age of four.[3]

Have any supplements been studied for acute bronchitis?

There is inadequate evidence from randomized controlled trials to support the efficacy of medicinal herbs used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat acute bronchitis.[10] However, the supplement Umckaloabo may assist in easing the symptoms of acute bronchitis.[11]

How could diet affect acute bronchitis?

There is little research on diet and acute bronchitis. Some research has found that fruit and vegetable intake is associated with a decreased risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)[12], but it is unclear whether the same benefit applies to acute bronchitis.

Fluid intake is another important dietary consideration. Although increasing fluid consumption is frequently advised when recovering from acute bronchitis, there is no evidence from randomized controlled studies that doing so is beneficial.[13]

Are there any other treatments for acute bronchitis?

Hot tea, honey, saline nasal sprays, humidifiers, steam inhalation, and throat lozenges are commonly used to alleviate the symptoms of acute bronchitis, including cough and sore throat. Although there is little evidence of their efficacy in randomized controlled trials, these remedies are generally safe and may be beneficial for some people.

What causes acute bronchitis?

Viruses (e.g., respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), enterovirus, influenza A and B, parainfluenza, coronavirus, and rhinovirus) cause approximately 90% of acute bronchitis cases. Bacterial infections are relatively uncommon, accounting for only 1%–10% of cases.[8][3]

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  1. ^Acute Bronchitis: MedlinePlus; Bethesda, MD: National Library of Medicine US, cited 13 October 2022
  2. ^Singh A, Avula A, Zahn EAcute BronchitisStatPearls.(2022-08)
  3. ^Kinkade S, Long NAAcute Bronchitis.Am Fam Physician.(2016-Oct-01)
  4. ^Paul IM, Beiler J, McMonagle A, Shaffer ML, Duda L, Berlin CMEffect of honey, dextromethorphan, and no treatment on nocturnal cough and sleep quality for coughing children and their parents.Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med.(2007-Dec)
  5. ^Hueston WJAlbuterol delivered by metered-dose inhaler to treat acute bronchitis.J Fam Pract.(1994-Nov)
  6. ^Hueston WJ, Mainous AGAcute bronchitis.Am Fam Physician.(1998-Mar-15)
  7. ^Becker LA, Hom J, Villasis-Keever M, van der Wouden JCBeta2-agonists for acute cough or a clinical diagnosis of acute bronchitis.Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2015-Sep-03)
  8. ^Harris AM, Hicks LA, Qaseem A, High Value Care Task Force of the American College of Physicians and for the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAppropriate Antibiotic Use for Acute Respiratory Tract Infection in Adults: Advice for High-Value Care From the American College of Physicians and the Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAnn Intern Med.(2016 Mar 15)
  9. ^Smith SM, Fahey T, Smucny J, Becker LAAntibiotics for acute bronchitis.Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2017-06-19)
  10. ^Jiang L, Li K, Wu TChinese medicinal herbs for acute bronchitis.Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2012-Feb-15)
  11. ^Agbabiaka TB, Guo R, Ernst EPelargonium sidoides for acute bronchitis: a systematic review and meta-analysisPhytomedicine.(2008 May)
  12. ^Zhai H, Wang Y, Jiang WFruit and Vegetable Intake and the Risk of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease: A Dose-Response Meta-Analysis of Observational Studies.Biomed Res Int.(2020)
  13. ^Guppy MP, Mickan SM, Del Mar CB, Thorning S, Rack AAdvising patients to increase fluid intake for treating acute respiratory infections.Cochrane Database Syst Rev.(2011-Feb-16)
Examine Database References
  1. Headaches - Kamin W, Maydannik VG, Malek FA, Kieser MEfficacy and tolerability of EPs 7630 in patients (aged 6-18 years old) with acute bronchitisActa Paediatr.(2010 Apr)
  2. Headaches - Chuchalin AG, Berman B, Lehmacher WTreatment of acute bronchitis in adults with a pelargonium sidoides preparation (EPs 7630): a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trialExplore (NY).(2005 Nov)
  3. Headaches - Matthys H, Kamin W, Funk P, Heger MPelargonium sidoides preparation (EPs 7630) in the treatment of acute bronchitis in adults and childrenPhytomedicine.(2007)
  4. Headaches - Kamin W, Ilyenko LI, Malek FA, Kieser MTreatment of acute bronchitis with EPs 7630: randomized, controlled trial in children and adolescentsPediatr Int.(2012 Apr)
  5. Headaches - Matthys H, Heger MEPs 7630-solution--an effective therapeutic option in acute and exacerbating bronchitisPhytomedicine.(2007)
  6. Headaches - Matthys H, Eisebitt R, Seith B, Heger MEfficacy and safety of an extract of Pelargonium sidoides (EPs 7630) in adults with acute bronchitis. A randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trialPhytomedicine.(2003)
  7. Headaches - Matthys H, Funk PEPs 7630 improves acute bronchitic symptoms and shortens time to remission. Results of a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre trialPlanta Med.(2008 May)
  8. Headaches - Matthys H, Lizogub VG, Malek FA, Kieser MEfficacy and tolerability of EPs 7630 tablets in patients with acute bronchitis: a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled dose-finding study with a herbal drug preparation from Pelargonium sidoidesCurr Med Res Opin.(2010 Jun)
  9. Headaches - Matthys H, Heger MTreatment of acute bronchitis with a liquid herbal drug preparation from Pelargonium sidoides (EPs 7630): a randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled, multicentre studyCurr Med Res Opin.(2007 Feb)
  10. Lung Function - Kamin W, Maydannik V, Malek FA, Kieser MEfficacy and tolerability of EPs 7630 in children and adolescents with acute bronchitis - a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled multicenter trial with a herbal drug preparation from Pelargonium sidoides rootsInt J Clin Pharmacol Ther.(2010 Mar)
  11. Bronchitis Symptoms - Agbabiaka TB, Guo R, Ernst EPelargonium sidoides for acute bronchitis: a systematic review and meta-analysisPhytomedicine.(2008 May)
  12. Bronchitis Symptoms - Wei J, Pang CS, Han J, Yan HEffect of Orally Administered N-Acetylcysteine on Chronic Bronchitis: A Meta-analysis.Adv Ther.(2019-Dec)