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Bronchitis (Chest Cold)

Español: Bronquitis

Overview

Antibiotics are almost never needed for bronchitis, a condition that occurs when the airways in the lungs swell and produce mucus, which causes a person to cough. While there are many different types of bronchitis, the following information is specific to one of the most common types—acute bronchitis.

Causes

Acute bronchitis, or chest cold, often occurs after an upper respiratory infection like a cold, and is usually caused by a viral infection. The most common viruses that cause acute bronchitis include:

Anatomy of lungs, showing a healthy versus an inflamed bronchus. View larger image

When you have bronchitis, the airways in your lungs swell and produce mucus, which causes you to cough.

Risk Factors

There are many things that can increase your risk for acute bronchitis, including:

  • Contact with another person with bronchitis
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke, chemicals, dust, or air pollution
  • A weakened immune system or taking drugs that weaken the immune system

Signs and Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • Coughing that produces mucus (you may not see mucus during the first few days you are sick)
  • Soreness in the chest
  • Fatigue (being tired)
  • Mild headache
  • Mild body aches
  • Fever (usually less than 101 °F)
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat

Most symptoms of acute bronchitis last for up to 2 weeks, but the cough can last up to 8 weeks in some people.

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When to Seek Medical Care

See a healthcare professional if you or your child has any of the following:

  • Temperature higher than 100.4 °F
  • A fever and cough with thick or bloody mucus
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Symptoms that last more than 3 weeks
  • Repeated episodes of bronchitis

In addition, people with chronic heart or lung problems should see a healthcare professional if they experience any new symptoms of acute bronchitis.

If your child is younger than three months of age and has a fever, it’s important to always call your healthcare professional right away.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Acute bronchitis is diagnosed based on the signs and symptoms a patient has when they visit their healthcare professional.

Acute bronchitis almost always gets better on its own and is almost never caused by bacteria, so antibiotics are not needed. Antibiotic treatment in these cases may even cause harm in both children and adults. Your healthcare professional may prescribe other medicine or give you tips to help with symptoms like sore throat and coughing.

If your healthcare professional diagnoses you or your child with another type of respiratory infection, such as pneumonia or whooping cough (pertussis), antibiotics will most likely be prescribed.

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Symptom Relief

Rest, over-the-counter medicines and other self-care methods may help you or your child feel better. For more information about symptomatic relief, visit the Symptom Relief section of this website or talk to your healthcare professional, including your pharmacist. Remember, always use over-the-counter products as directed. Many over-the-counter products are not recommended for children of certain ages.

Prevention

There are several steps you can take to help prevent bronchitis, including:

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