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Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath, wheezing, a low fever, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.
Most cases of acute bronchitis get better within several days. But your cough can last for several weeks after the infection is gone.
The same viruses that cause colds and the flu often cause acute bronchitis. These viruses spread through the air when people cough, or though physical contact (for example, on unwashed hands). Being exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution, dusts, vapors, and fumes can also cause acute bronchitis. Less often, bacteria can also cause acute bronchitis.
To diagnose acute bronchitis, your health care provider will ask about your symptoms and listen to your breathing. You may also have other tests.
Treatments include rest, fluids, and aspirin (for adults) or acetaminophen to treat fever. A humidifier or steam can also help. You may need inhaled medicine to open your airways if you are wheezing. Antibiotics won't help if the cause is viral. You may get antibiotics if the cause is bacterial.
NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
- Acute Bronchitis (American Lung Association)
- Acute Bronchitis (American Academy of Family Physicians) Also in Spanish
- Bronchitis (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute) Also in Spanish
- Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work - Bronchitis (Chest Cold) (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) Also in Spanish
- Cough Culprits: What's the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia? (National Institutes of Health)
- Humidifiers: Air Moisture Eases Skin, Breathing Symptoms (Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research)