Acute Bronchitis

When bronchitis is acute, it means it shouldn’t last long. But it can still make you miserable. Let’s get you breathing easy again.

Let’s kick that cough.

Two Kinds of Bronchitis

Bronchitis is an inflammation of your breathing tubes (airways) called bronchi. This causes increased production of mucus and other changes, and although there are several different types of bronchitis, they fall into two categories: acute and chronic. “Acute” means that the bronchitis is likely to not last long, and that it’s a temporary condition. Bronchitis is “chronic” when cough and expectoration occur most days for at least three months per year, and for two years in a row.

What Causes It?

The nagging, annoying, sometimes painful cough you get when you have bronchitis is usually caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses, but it can also be due to things like dusts, allergens, and strong fumes. Though it’s uncomfortable, acute bronchitis is usually a mild, self-limiting condition – meaning it doesn’t spread and you’ll likely feel better soon with simple treatment.

Understanding Acute Bronchitis

The following are the most common symptoms for acute bronchitis. However, you may experience symptoms differently – and these symptoms may resemble other conditions or medical problems, so it’s always best to talk with your doctor. Acute bronchitis symptoms include:

  • Runny nose
  • Malaise
  • Chills
  • Slight fever
  • Back and muscle pain
  • Sore throat
  • Wheezing
  • A dry, nonproductive cough early on
  • Abundant mucus-filled cough at later stages
  • Shortness of breath

Acute bronchitis is usually diagnosed by completing a medical history and physical examination. Many tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. The following tests may be ordered to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • Chest X-Rays: Diagnostic tests that use invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Arterial Blood Gas: This test is used to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • Pulse Oximetry: An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto your finger or toe.
  • Cultures of Nasal Discharge and Sputum: Tests used to find and identify the microorganism causing an infection.
  • Lung (Pulmonary Function) Tests: Diagnostic tests that help to measure the ability of the lungs to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that you must breathe into.

Specific treatment for acute bronchitis will be determined by your doctor based on your age, overall health, medical history, the extent of the disease and your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies. In most cases, antibiotic treatment is not necessary to treat acute bronchitis, since most of the infections are caused by viruses. If the condition has progressed to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be appropriate. Most treatments are used to relieve symptoms, and may include:

  • Analgesics: Such as acetaminophen, for fever and discomfort
  • Increased Humidity: Your doctor may recommend a humidifier.
  • Avoiding Antihistamines: Antihistamines such as diphenhydramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine are often included in over-the-counter cold and flu remedies, but these should be avoided in cases of acute bronchitis, because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.
  • Cough Medicine
  • Increased Fluid Intake
  • Smoking Cessation
  • Avoiding Secondhand Smoke

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