Ten Fast Facts About Acute Bronchitis

1. Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchi – the large airways that lead into the lungs.

2. The key symptom of bronchitis is a productive cough, which usually resolves within one to three weeks on its own.

3. The color of the sputum you’re coughing up doesn’t help determine if the infection is bacterial or viral. Patients with bacterial infections can cough up clear phlegm, and patients with viral infections can cough up yellow phlegm (and vice versa!). Your symptoms and exam findings are more helpful indicators of what kind of infection you have.

4. Antibiotics are usually unnecessary, since up to 94% of acute bronchitis cases are caused by viruses, not bacteria. In addition acute bronchitis can be self-healing in about two weeks’ time.

5. Bronchitis, an infection of the large airways called the bronchi, is different from pneumonia, an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia typically causes more significant symptoms, including a fever, fast heart rate, shortness of breath and a fast-respiratory rate. Pneumonia causes more dangerous complications than bronchitis does, including dehydration, respiratory distress and sepsis. Also, most pneumonias show up on a chest X-ray, whereas chest X-rays in patients with acute bronchitis are almost always normal.

6. Several factors increase your risk of getting acute bronchitis, including tobacco use, secondhand smoke, acid reflux, a weakened immune system and exposure to chemical fumes or dust.

7. A flu shot can lower your risk of contracting acute bronchitis, since many cases of bronchitis are caused by influenza.

8. While antibiotics aren’t usually indicated (or helpful!), there are several effective home therapies for bronchitis, including menthol lozenges, tea, honey and steam.

9. If you have any doubt whether you have bronchitis or not, you should seek urgent medical attention, since bronchitis can mimic other more potentially serious conditions (i.e., pneumonia) that can progress quickly if not diagnosed and treated appropriately.

10. Acute bronchitis is different than chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis occurs most often in patients who smoke, and it causes episodes of wheezing, coughing and difficulty breathing every few months. While there are treatments for chronic bronchitis, there’s no known cure. The good news about acute bronchitis is that it’s curable! It often completely resolves within three weeks from the onset of symptoms.

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Written by Sarah Thebarge, Physician Assistant