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What is acute bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the large breathing tubes (airways) that are called bronchi, which causes increased production of mucus and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the two most common are acute and chronic (primarily affects adults). Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes leading to the lungs (the lower respiratory system). It usually develops rapidly and lasts fewer than 2 to 3 weeks. In a small number of people, acute

bronchitis can come back and may become long-lasting. (This should not be confused with chronic bronchitis, which may be treated differently.) Older adults are most susceptible to acute bronchitis. Bronchitis generally follows a viral infection of the lungs. Common cold can also cause bronchitis. In common cold, an infection of the respiratory tract accompanied by inflammation of the air passages of the lungs, sets the stage for bronchitis followed by bacterial infection.

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses. It may also be caused by physical or chemical agents - dusts, allergens, strong fumes, and those from chemical cleaning compounds, or tobacco smoke. (Acute asthmatic bronchitis may happen as the result of an asthma attack, or it may be the cause of an asthma attack.) In children, the most common cause of bronchitis is a virus, although in children over 6 years of age, it can be caused by bacteria. Acute bronchitis is usually a mild condition. Acute bronchitis may follow the common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in children with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.

Early symptoms may include a tickle deep in the throat just above the sternal notch which progresses into an irritating dry cough. As the infection progresses, the cough may become productive with thick yellow sputum (purulent sputum) which is very rarely blood streaked. Associated symptoms may include fever, malaise, chest pain, and shortness of breath. When affected, infants generally develop other respiratory complications, such as bronchiolitis or pneumonia, while older children and adolescents develop typical adult symptoms of bronchitis.

Diagnosis is made by the health care provider taking a careful history of symptoms and performing a physical examination. Patients with acute bronchitis usually have a viral respiratory infection with transient inflammatory changes that produce sputum and symptoms of airway obstruction. The cough in acute bronchitis may produce either clear or purulent sputum. While this cough generally lasts seven to 10 days, it can persist. Approximately 50 percent of patients with acute bronchitis have a cough that lasts up to three weeks, and 25 percent of patients have a cough that persists for over a month.

The goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms with medications and supportive measures. Multiple studies have shown antibiotics do not benefit most patients with acute bronchitis. In otherwise healthy people, antibiotics should rarely be prescribed. Medications which open constricted air passages in the lungs (bronchodilators), such as albuterol, may be prescribed particularly for patients with wheezing. Decongestants (such as pseudoephedrine) may also help alleviate the symptoms of bronchitis. Medications that liquefy mucus secretions (mucolytics, like guaifenesin) may also be prescribed. Supportive treatments include rest, increased humidity (using a cool mist humidifier) to soothe air passages, and increased fluid intake to maintain hydration and to thin mucous lung secretions.

More information on bronchitis

What is bronchitis? - Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, or bronchi, that bring air into the lungs. Chronic bronchitis is a sign of serious lung disease.
What is acute bronchitis? - Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, but can also be caused by a bacterial infection and can heal without complications.
What is chronic bronchitis? - Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, the main air passages in the lungs, which persists for a long period or repeatedly recurs.
What causes bronchitis? - Bronchitis is usually caused by infection with a virus. Several viruses cause bronchitis, including influenza A and B.
What're the symptoms of bronchitis? - Symptoms of acute bronchitis usually begins with the symptoms of a cold, such as a runny nose, sneezing, and dry cough.
How is bronchitis diagnosed? - Diagnosis of bronchitis is based on observing the patient's symptoms and health history. Arterial blood gases should be monitored.
What's the treatment for bronchitis? - Conventional treatment for acute bronchitis may consist of simple measures such as getting plenty of rest, drinking lots of fluids, avoiding smoke and fumes.
How to prevent bronchitis? - Good hygiene can reduce the spread of viral infection. Immunizations against influenza and pertussis can reduce the risk for bacterial bronchitis.
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All information is intended for reference only. Please consult your physician for accurate medical advices and treatment. Copyright 2005,, all rights reserved. Last update: July 18, 2005