Acute Bronchitis Might Not Be as Serious as You Think

Doctors don’t like to use the word bronchitis. Not because it’s scary, but because it sounds scarier than it is.

“Acute bronchitis is a respiratory infection just like a cold or flu,” explains Dr. J.D. Zipkin, Associate Medical Director with Northwell Health-GoHealth Urgent Care. The difference lies in where an infection takes root, but treatment is generally the same.

What You Need to Know About Acute Bronchitis

If you find yourself with acute bronchitis, chances are it’s the result of a viral infection. Research shows between 85-95% of all cases in otherwise healthy individuals follow a bout of the common cold or flu. And, given our anatomy, this makes sense.

Your nose, sinuses and throat, which become inflamed with a cold or flu, are connected to your bronchial tubes, the site of bronchitis. Should your viral infection spread from the upper nasal respiratory epithelium to your upper airways, it leads to inflammation here as well.

This subsequently leads to excessive coughing and brings up mucus (among other bronchitis symptoms) that, while annoying, are your body’s way of expelling germs so you can start feeling better. But it never hurts to get things checked out by a doctor, especially if your symptoms persist or get worse.

It’s also important to note that acute bronchitis is different from chronic bronchitis, one of several lung diseases included in the category of chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases (COPD).

Chronic bronchitis often results from long-term cigarette smoking or repeated exposure to air pollutants like dust, fumes or other irritants. To prevent this lung condition, you should avoid smoking or quit smoking if you’ve already started.

How to Treat Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis treatment methods are similar to those recommended when you have a cold or flu. Since the body will naturally heal itself in about two weeks’ time, symptom management is key.

“We don’t want you to sit at home and suffer,” says Zipkin, “so we focus on how we can save you time, money and energy.” Unfortunately, in treating acute bronchitis antibiotics won’t do you any good, unless in the rare instance your case of bronchitis is a bacterial infection.

Home remedies like getting enough fluids and rest are a good start to recovering. But to reduce inflammation and ease your pain, you can also take an over-the-counter medication like acetaminophen or ibuprofen.

Want to get rid of your hacking cough that can linger weeks after other symptoms have subsided? Cough suppressants like cough medicine can help.

When It Might Be More Serious

There’s a chance that what you think might be bronchitis isn’t really bronchitis. That’s because the lower respiratory tract infection presents with symptoms – such as runny nose, sore throat and shortness of breath – that are similar to other illnesses like pneumonia and chronic asthma.

People who have weakened immune systems – such as younger children, adults older than 65, and those with conditions like diabetes or heart disease – are at an increased risk for acute bronchitis turning into pneumonia. If your doctor suspects you have fluid in your lungs, or you have a fever, chills, or shortness of breath, a chest X-ray might be performed.

Additionally, environmental triggers like pollen and dust can result in asthma or allergies, producing symptoms that are often confused with bronchitis.


Not sure if your respiratory symptoms are acute bronchitis or something else? We’re here to help. Stop by GoHealth Urgent Care location in your area, or select your location below to save a spot online .