The Dr. said I have Bronchitis – Is that bad?

shutterstock_151516097Patients frequently come into the clinic with bronchitis, especially during the winter months.  Often, they are not sure what bronchitis is or how to treat it.  Here is some information about bronchitis and how it is treated that will hopefully answer some of these questions.  This information is for educational purposes only, and should not substitute for actually seeing a physician.

Bronchitis:  Inflammation/swelling of the bronchi (large tubes that carry air to the lungs).  There are two types of bronchitis.  The first type is acute (sudden onset) which is the most common reason for patients to come to the clinic and the second type is chronic (long-standing).  Acute bronchitis occurs with a viral infection such as a common cold – sometimes called a “chest cold.”

When to see a medical provider:  Fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees F or 38 degrees C), cough that lasts greater than 10 days, chest pain with coughing, difficulty breathing, or coughing up blood, a barking cough that makes it hard to speak,  cough accompanied by unexplained weight loss.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis:  The most common symptom of acute bronchitis is a nagging cough.  Some people cough up mucus that may be clear, yellow or green.  Fever is uncommon.  Chest discomfort, fatigue, and wheezing can be present.  Even after acute bronchitis has cleared, you may have a dry, nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.

Causes of acute bronchitis:  The most common cause is a viral infection of the upper airway.  Less likely, it can also be caused from a bacteria called Bordetella pertussis which causes “whooping cough.”

Treatment of acute bronchitis:  Relieve the symptoms of sore throat and congestion.  Antibiotics do not help acute bronchitis caused by a virus.  Antiviral agents are useful in some cases when the cause is influenza.  Do not smoke, drink plenty of fluids and rest.  Symptoms usually go away within 7 to 10 days if you do not have a underlying lung disorder.  A dry, hacking cough can linger for a number of months however.

Although no specific treatment exists – there are several available options to reduce symptoms:

1)   Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medication such as ibuprofen or naproxen

2)   Heated, humidified air can help improve symptoms of nasal congestion and cough

3)   Cough suppressant medications have not shown to be helpful for most patients

4)   Inhaler medications, commonly used for patients with asthma can sometimes be helpful to reduce bronchospasm/wheezing.

Complications:  Pneumonia can develop from either acute or chronic bronchitis.

Prevention:  Do not smoke, get a yearly flu vaccine and a pneumonia vaccination as directed by your doctor, reduce exposure to air pollution, wash your hands (and your children’s hands) frequently.

Chronic bronchitis:  A cough that occurs on most days of the month for at least three months of the year during 2 consecutive years.

Preventing the spread to others:  Hand washing is very important.  Alcohol-based rubs are a good alternative if no sink is available.  Use a tissue to cover your mouth hen sneezing or coughing and promptly throw away the tissue immediately.

This document is for informational purposes only, and should not be considered medical advice for any individual patient.  If you have questions please contact your medical provider.


I hope that you have found this information useful.  Wishing you the best of health,

Scott Rennie, DO



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