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Bronchitis is a lung condition that occurs when the bronchial tubes become irritated. It causes coughing that is often accompanied by mucous. Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is very common and usually resolves in a few days or weeks. It usually results from a respiratory infection, like a cold or the flu, and may be contagious. When bronchitis is a frequent symptom, lasting for at least three months and returning at least two years in a row, it is called chronic bronchitis.

In chronic bronchitis, the airways remain inflamed, which leads to swelling and more music production. Chronic bronchitis is a common symptom for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Coughing spells

Coughing spells are a common symptom of both acute and chronic bronchitis. In acute bronchitis, people experience an acute onset of a persistent cough, with or without mucous. This cough usually resolves on its own over a few weeks. Cough is also the most common symptom of chronic bronchitis. The persistent cough is often what prompts people to seek medical attention.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments
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Mucus production

Phlegm or mucous may also be a factor in bronchitis. In acute bronchitis, the cough can start as unproductive, dry, and irritating, but as the condition progresses, it can begin producing sputum. The productive cough tends to last longer. In chronic bronchitis, about half of people have a productive cough. Sputum color can vary. Dark yellow or green sputum may indicate a bacterial infection, like pneumonia, though color alone is not a definite indication of infection. Blood-tinged sputum can occur in bronchitis due to damage to the airway, but it can also indicate a more serious health problem. If you are coughing up blood-tinged or pink sputum, seek medical attention.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments
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Chest discomfort

Chest pain can also occur with bronchitis. Someone with either acute or chronic bronchitis may experience a rattle in their chest or congestion where their chest feels clogged. They may also experience chest heaviness or pressure from inflammation and mucus accumulating. Chest pain is rare in chronic bronchitis, but those with acute bronchitis may experience chest pain due to prolonged or forceful coughing.

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Wheezing

When the airway is inflamed, as in bronchitis, wheezing may occur. Someone with acute bronchitis may experience wheezing; in the chronic form of the condition, a wheeze may be present if the person also has asthma. Wheezing is a high-pitched whistling sound that occurs when air moves through a narrowed airway. In bronchitis, the airways can be narrowed due to irritation or phlegm accumulation. Wheezing can occur when someone inhales or exhales, but exhaling is usually more noticeable. When someone is wheezing with bronchitis, a doctor may prescribe a bronchodilator, which helps open the airways, or a corticosteroid to reduce inflammation.

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Breathlessness

Irritation, mucus, and coughing can cause shortness of breath. Coughing spells can be triggered by irritants, like cigarette smoke, chemicals, or dry air, making breathing more difficult. There are multiple ways to treat bronchitis. Acute bronchitis may go away on its own, but there are some ways to alleviate the symptoms. Over-the-counter cough suppressants can reduce cough, and expectorants can loosen mucus to make coughing less harsh. You may also try drinking hot tea with honey or using a humidifier.

For people with chronic bronchitis, doctors may recommend smoking cessation, using medication to clear the airway or keep symptoms from worsening, using oxygen therapy, or learning breathing techniques to help improve breathing. People with either type of bronchitis may be prescribed an inhaler containing medication that can help open the airway and relieve symptoms.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments
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Low-Grade fever

A low-grade fever, generally less than 100.4°F, may be present in acute or chronic bronchitis. However, it is more common in acute bronchitis caused by an upper respiratory infection. High-grade fevers are unusual in either form of bronchitis and may indicate pneumonia or influenza. For fever over 102°F, seek medication care as additional treatment may be necessary.

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Chills

Chills are a common symptom of bronchitis, especially in acute bronchitis caused by a virus. Chills are the body's way of increasing its core temperature, and they may occur before or during a fever. If bronchitis is accompanied by a high fever with chillsbronchitis occurs with a cold or other upper airway infection. This symptom is generally mild and resolves on its own.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments
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Difficulty breathing

Bronchitis can cause shortness of breath but does not usually cause difficulty breathing. Pneumonia is a complication of bronchitis and difficulty breathing can be a symptom.

Someone with pneumonia may also have a high fever of up to 105°F, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, chills, sweating, loss of appetite, fatigue, and confusion. See a medical professional if you cannot completely exhale or inhale or if you feel like something is physically keeping you from breathing.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments
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Fatigue

People with bronchitis can experience fatigue for many reasons. If acute bronchitis results from an infection, the body is using its energy to fight off the bacteria or virus, which can make the person feel tired. Rarely, people may cough so forcefully that the experince chest pain or muscle pain. Coughing this hard can make it difficult to sleep, contributing to fatigue. Rest is essential during bronchitis as it gives the body time to heal.

Bronchitis: Symptoms and Treatments

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Sore throat

Because acute bronchitis usually begins with a virus, a sore throat can be an early symptom of bronchitis. Cold viruses typically start in the upper airway, beginning with nasal congestion, sinus infection, or sore throat, and then spread lower into the airway.

Close up of young woman rubbing her inflamed tonsils, tonsilitis problem, cropped. Woman with thyroid gland problem, touching her neck, girl has a sore throat stefanamer / Getty Images

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Headache and body aches

Headaches and body aches are not generally signs of bronchitis, but bodyaches can occur when the body is fighting off an illness and may accompany fever. If you are experiencing headaches and body aches with bronchitis, here are some things that may help:

  • Stay hydrated. Staying hydrated can help your body fight off any infection and make coughing up mucus easier. Drink plenty of tea, electrolyte drinks, and water.
  • Heat can help relieve body aches. If you don't have a fever, getting a warm bath or shower can help relax the muscles but keep the temperature lukewarm, not hot.
  • If you have a fever, take fever-reducing medication. Fevers may make the body shiver, which causes the muscles to tense up and may lead to muscle aches. Reducing the fever can help. These medications also help relieve pain.
  • Rest. Sleep helps to strengthen the immune system and allows the body to fight off illness. Try to get as much rest as possible.

African american businesswoman feeling unwell suffering from headache migraine touching forehead at team meeting, upset black woman employee frustrated by business problem or work stress, head

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Preventive measures

Quit smoking, human hands breaking the cigarette

Here are some things you can do to reduce the risk of getting bronchitis:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Avoid irritants like air pollution, fumes, or secondhand smoke.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Get the COVID-19 vaccine and booster as recommended.
  • Get a pneumonia vaccine when appropriate.
  • Wash your hands to reduce the risk of getting a viral infection.
  • Wear a surgical mask. If you have chronic bronchitis, consider wearing a surgical mask when exposed to irritants or when you are going to be in a crowd, like when traveling.

The takeaway

Both acute and chronic bronchitis are common. Acute bronchitis typically resolves on its own, but chronic bronchitis can last years. Bronchitis can have complications, including pneumonia, which can be quite severe. If you have bronchitis, it is vital to recognize symptoms of complications early. See a doctor if you are experiencing increasing shortness of breath, a high fever, or if your cough does not go away after two or three weeks.


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Disclaimer

This site offers information designed for educational purposes only. You should not rely on any information on this site as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, treatment, or as a substitute for, professional counseling care, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you have any concerns or questions about your health, you should always consult with a physician or other healthcare professional.