Young black woman with bronchitis coughs into her hand as she sits on white couch with white blanket


Have bronchitis symptoms? Here’s what to expect

  • There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.
  • Some bronchitis symptoms are similar to those of COVID-19.

Whether you call it a chest cold or bronchitis, the effect is the same: lots of coughing and lots of gunk in your chest. If you feel like your latest cold is spreading to your chest, here’s what you should know.  

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that connect your mouth and nose to your lungs. Viruses, like those that cause colds or the flu, are responsible for most cases of bronchitis. As your body fights the infection, the bronchial tubes become swollen and inflamed. Mucus forms inside of them, and that makes it harder to breathe. There are two types of bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is the most common type. Like a cold or the flu, it lasts a few days to several weeks with no lasting effects on your health.

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a more serious lung disease and occurs because of repeated irritation of the airways and lungs. Your risk of bronchitis increases if you smoke or have exposure to smoke, pollution, dust or toxic fumes. Chronic bronchitis typically lasts three months or longer and occurs at least two years in a row. In some cases, your symptoms never completely go away.

Symptoms of bronchitis

Bronchitis often starts with a dry cough and progresses to coughing that brings up thick mucus. Typical bronchitis symptoms include:

  • persistent cough
  • production of mucus, which may be clear, white, yellowish-green or green
  • fever and chills
  • soreness or tightness in the chest
  • shortness of breath
  • headache.

There are several other conditions that can cause a persistent cough, including and pneumonia. Bronchitis also shares some symptoms with COVID-19. Visit the Allina Health COVID-19 Resource Center to learn more. It’s important to see your health care provider if you’ve had a cough lasting more than three weeks.

Causes of bronchitis

Viruses cause most cases of bronchitis. But several factors increase your risk for both acute and chronic bronchitis.

  • Smoking. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis, but it also increases your risk for acute bronchitis. You are also at higher risk if you live with a smoker.
  • Weakened immune system. Stress, fatigue and chronic health conditions can weaken your resistance to infections like bronchitis. Young children and older adults may have less resistance.
  • Exposure to irritants at work. Some occupations may increase your risk of lung disease, including those that expose you to airborne particles or chemical fumes.
  • GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). When stomach acid backs up into your esophagus, it can contribute to a chronic cough and irritation of the throat and airway.

How long does bronchitis last?

If you have acute bronchitis, most of your symptoms should improve within a week. Coughing may hang on for several weeks. In most cases, you will be contagious for a few days and possibly as long as a week.

People with chronic bronchitis may always have a cough and other symptoms, or their symptoms will go away after several months but keep coming back. 

How to treat bronchitis

Most people recover from acute bronchitis on their own. See a health care provider if you:

  • cough longer than three weeks
  • cough up blood
  • are very short of breath
  • are wheezing (making a high-pitched noise when you exhale)
  • have a fever lasting longer than a week.

Quick bronchitis treatment starts with in-person or virtual urgent care. View urgent care location wait times or start a virtual urgent care visit now.

Antibiotics for bronchitis

Antibiotics help treat bacterial infections. Because a virus is typically to blame for bronchitis, antibiotics are not a useful treatment in most cases.

At-home remedies for bronchitis

  • Clear fluids. Stay hydrated to keep mucus thin. This allows your sinuses to drain more easily and helps you clear your breathing tubes by coughing.
  • Over-the-counter medicines. Try a medicine that will help thin mucus.
  • Honey. Studies have shown that honey can help soothe a cough. Try mixing honey and lemon in warm water or stir honey into your tea.
  • Humidifier. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, making it easier to breathe when you have a respiratory illness. Make sure you keep your humidifier clean to prevent the growth of mold and bacteria.
  • Breathe in steam. Take a warm shower or bath, or cover your head with a towel as you lean over warm water in a sink or bowl.
  • Gargle with saltwater. This helps soothe any irritated tissues in your throat.
  • Lots of rest. Getting enough rest will help your immune system fight off the virus, allowing you to feel better faster. 



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