Acute bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes (pipes that carry air from the mouth and nose to the lungs). It causes cough, mucus (phlegm) and sometimes wheeze and breathlessness. The cough usually lasts about 7-10 days, but it can persist for weeks or even months.
What causes it?
Acute bronchitis in healthy people is almost always caused by viruses, often the same ones which cause colds and flu.
The infection is spread from person to person by coughing or by touching hands or tissues coated with the virus. Smokers are more likely to get it and to have it longer.
Are antibiotics required?
Antibiotics have been shown to have only a small benefit overall in treating acute bronchitis in people who are otherwise healthy. They are not required in most cases, even if the mucus is coloured or thick.
However, those with chronic lung disease (daily cough and phlegm) are more likely to benefit from antibiotics for acute bronchitis.
What else can be done?
Your doctor will sometimes prescribe asthma medicines to open the bronchial tubes. Cough medicines may provide some relief. It is also important to take extra fluids and cut down or stop smoking.
When to see your doctor
- If the cough lasts more than 10 days or you are too sick to go to work.
- If you have a high fever or feel very sick and weak, you may have pneumonia.
- If you wheeze and cough, especially at night or when active, it could be asthma.
- If you cough up blood or get breathless.
- If you have chronic lung disease.
Please note this information was correct at time of printing.
For up to date information, speak to your doctor.