Health Guide
Drug Guide

Acute bronchitis in adults

What is it?

Acute bronchitis (brong-KEYE-tis) is swelling and irritation in the air passages of the lungs. This irritation may cause coughing and other breathing problems. Acute bronchitis happens most often during the winter. It often starts because of another illness, such as a cold or the flu. The illness then spreads from your nose and throat to your windpipe and airways. Some people call bronchitis a "chest cold." Acute bronchitis is usually not a serious illness. It usually lasts about two weeks, although coughing can last over a month. In healthy people, acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own.

What causes acute bronchitis?

What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed? From your signs and symptoms, caregivers will learn if you have acute bronchitis or another medical condition. If your symptoms are very bad or if you have other health problems, you may need blood tests or x-rays. These tests can help caregivers see how your body is handling your illness. Tests can also help make sure you do not have a more serious illness, such as pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyah) or heart failure.

How is acute bronchitis treated? Most people with acute bronchitis are treated at home. Some things that may help you recover from bronchitis include the following:

While you are sick, do not drink alcohol. Alcohol dulls your urge to cough and sneeze. When you have bronchitis, you need to be able to cough and sneeze to clear your air passages. Alcohol also causes your body to lose fluid. This can make the mucus in your lungs thicker and harder to cough up.

Avoid smoke, dust, and fumes (strong smells). Do not smoke, and do not allow others to smoke around you. Avoid working around chemicals, fumes, or dust.

Get plenty of rest. You may feel like resting more. Slowly start to do more each day. Rest when you feel it is needed.

Eat a healthy diet. Good nutrition can help your body fight illness. Eat a variety of healthy foods every day. Your diet should include fruits, vegetables, breads and protein (such as chicken, fish, and beans). Dairy products (such as milk, cheese, and ice cream) can sometimes cause more mucus. Ask your caregiver if you should decrease your intake of dairy products while you are coughing up mucus.

Drink enough liquids. Be sure to drink enough liquids every day. Most people should drink at least eight (8 ounce) cups of water a day. This helps to keep your air passages moist and better able to get rid of germs and other irritants.

Use a humidifier or vaporizer. Use a cool mist humidifier or a vaporizer to increase air moisture in your home. This may make it easier for you to breathe, and help decrease your cough. Be sure to clean your humidifier with soap and water every day to prevent germs.

Use medicines the right way. Medicines, when used correctly, may help you feel better.

Inhalers: Your caregiver may give you one or more inhalers to help you breathe easier and cough less. An inhaler gives your medicine in a mist form so that you can breathe it into your lungs. Using an inhaler the right way takes practice. Ask your caregiver to show you how to use your inhaler correctly.

Steroids: Steroid (STER-oid) medicine may help to open your air passages so you can breathe easier. Do not stop taking this medicine without your caregiver's OK. Stopping on your own can cause problems.

Antibiotics and bronchitis: Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus. Antibiotic (an-ti-bi-AH-tik) medicine does not work against viruses, only bacteria. Most people with acute bronchitis do not need antibiotics. Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can lead to the medicines not working when they are needed. Antibiotics can have side effects, which makes it unwise to take them when you do not need them. Do not ask for antibiotics if your caregiver says you do not need them. Your caregiver may give you antibiotics if you are at a high risk of getting pneumonia. You may be at risk of getting pneumonia if you are elderly. Other health problems, such as lung disease or heart failure, also increases this risk. If you are given antibiotics, take them until they are gone, even if you feel better. Never "save" antibiotics or take leftover antibiotics that were given to you for another illness.

How can I decrease my chances of getting acute bronchitis?

Get the vaccinations (shots) you need. Ask your caregiver if you should get vaccinated (VAK-si-nay-ted) against the flu or pneumonia. The best time to get a flu shot is in October or November. Flu shots are repeated every year. Pneumonia shots are usually repeated every five to six years. Ask your caregiver which vaccinations are right for you.

Quit smoking. Do not smoke, and do not allow others to smoke around you. Smoking increases your risk of lung infections and bronchitis. Smoking also makes it harder for you to get better after having a lung infection. Talk to your caregiver if you need help quitting smoking.

Avoid things that may irritate your lungs.

Avoid the spread of germs. You can decrease your chance of getting acute bronchitis and other illnesses by doing the following:

Herbs and Supplements:

Before taking any herbs or supplements, ask your caregiver if it is OK. Talk to your caregiver about how much you should take. If you are using this medicine without instructions from your caregiver, follow the directions on the label. Do not take more medicine or take it more often than the directions tell you to. The herbs and supplements listed may or may not help treat your condition.



Other ways of treating your symptoms : Other ways to treat your symptoms are available to you.

Talk to your caregiver if:


Risks: Your bronchitis may turn into a serious infection, such as pneumonia. The chance of your bronchitis becoming a serious illness is increased if you have other health problems. The elderly and those with certain other health problems may need to be treated in a hospital. Having many respiratory (breathing) illnesses over a period of time may cause permanent (life-long) lung problems. Tell your caregiver if you have a cough that is hard to get rid of or that comes back often.

Care Agreement:

You have the right to help plan your care. To help with this plan, you must learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. You can then discuss treatment options with your caregivers. Work with them to decide what care will be used to treat you. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


1. Stey C, Steurer J, Bachmann S et al: The effect of oral N-acetylcysteine in chronic bronchitis: a quantitative systematic review. Eur Respir J 2000; 16(2):254-262.

Last Updated: 9/15/2016

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