Acute Bronchitis – An inflammation of the main airways of the lungs (the bronchi) that usually lasts for a short period of time. It is different from chronic bronchitis, which lasts a long period of time. Acute bronchitis is one of the most common medical conditions seen in a doctor’s office. It is usually caused by a virus that infects the respiratory system, including possibly, the cold virus (also called the rhinovirus). The following conditions increase a person’s risk of developing acute bronchitis:
- Recent illness or a viral respiratory infection that reduces the ability to fight off infections, including influenza (the flu);
- Chronic lung conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema or chronic bronchitis);
- Being a cigarette smoker.
Acute bronchitis occurs in children as well as adults, The symptoms may be similar to those of a cold. A person may have tickle in the throat that leads to a dry, irritating cough. As the infection gets worse, he/she may cough up thick, yellow mucus. Other key symptoms include:
- Coughing – Steady or worsening cough for 1 – 2 weeks, but can last for a month or longer; often worse at night, and mucus in the cough;
- Wheezing – Sometimes with a rattling feeling in the chest
- Chest pain – Sometimes with soreness and tightness in the chest
- Difficulty sleeping
Since whooping cough, sinusitis and pneumonia may cause bronchitis-like symptoms, it’s always best to see a physician or other qualified health professional to get a proper diagnosis. In some cases, a chest x-ray may be necessary in addition to a physical examination.
Prevention – Key approaches are good handwashing, a flu shot if in a high risk group (see influenza), don’t smoke, and limit exposure to cold and dampness
Treatment – In most cases, antibiotics are not helpful because the condition is almost always caused by a virus. Medications called bronchodilators are used to open tight air passages in the lungs and thus decrease wheezing. Decongestants may also help relieve symptoms some symptoms of bronchitis. The physician may also recommend drinking more fluids to thin mucus in the lungs, get a lot of rest, and use a cool mist humidifier to help sooth the airways.