Preventing and Treating Bronchitis
Cough keeping you up at night? Soreness in your chest and feeling fatigued? You could have acute bronchitis, but be aware: an antibiotic will not help you get better.
Bronchitis occurs when the airways of the lungs swell and produce mucus. That’s what makes you cough. Acute bronchitis, often called a “chest cold,” is the most common type of bronchitis. The symptoms last less than 3 weeks. Antibiotics are not indicated to treat acute bronchitis. Using antibiotics when not needed could do more harm than good.
If you’re a healthy person without underlying heart or lung problems or a weakened immune system, this information is for you.
- Coughing with or without mucus production
You may also experience:
- Soreness in the chest
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
- Mild headache
- Mild body aches
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and often occurs after an upper respiratory infection.
Bacteria can sometimes cause acute bronchitis, but even in these cases antibiotics are NOT recommended and will not help you get better.
See a healthcare professional if you or your child have any of the following:
- Temperature higher than 100.4 °F
- Cough with bloody mucus
- Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
- Symptoms that last more than 3 weeks
- Repeated episodes of bronchitis
Good news! Acute bronchitis almost always gets better on its own—without antibiotics. Using antibiotics when they aren’t needed can do more harm than good. Unintended consequences of antibiotics include side effects, like rash and diarrhea, as well as more serious consequences, such as an increased risk for an antibiotic-resistant infection or Clostridium difficle infection, a sometimes deadly diarrhea.
To Feel Better:
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer
- Breathe in steam from a bowl of hot water or shower
- Use lozenges (do not give lozenges to children younger than 4 years of age)
- Ask your healthcare professional or pharmacist about over-the-counter medicines that can help you feel better
Remember, always use over-the-counter medicines as directed. Do not use cough and cold medicines in children younger than 4 years of age unless specifically told to do so by a healthcare professional.
Your healthcare professional will most likely prescribe antibiotics for a diagnosis of whooping cough (pertussis) or pneumonia.
- Practice good hand hygiene
- Keep you and your child up to date with recommended vaccines
- Don’t smoke and avoid secondhand smoke, chemicals, dust, or air pollution
- Always cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Make sure you and your child are to up-to-date with all recommended vaccine
Antibiotics will not treat acute bronchitis. Using antibiotics when not needed could do more harm than good.
- Page last reviewed: April 7, 2017
- Page last updated: May 18, 2017
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