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Updated: Nov 24, 2021

In getting rid of harmful things in your lungs, you need to cough. It is when your coughing gets too much that one starts to raise an eyebrow.

Bronchitis can make you end up with a nagging cough which produces thick mucus that can be discoloured. When the tubes that carry air into your lungs, called the bronchial tubes (which serves as the air passages that link the mouth and nose with the lungs), get inflamed (swollen), it can be referred to as bronchitis.

There are two types, namely; acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis. This is more common. Symptoms last a few weeks, and usually improve within a week to 10 days without lasting effects. Although the cough may linger for weeks, while the bronchial tubes heal and the swelling goes down, it doesn’t usually cause problems past that time.

Chronic bronchitis. This one is more serious. It is repeated bouts of bronchitis. It has similar symptoms to acute bronchitis but it is persistent and never completely goes away, it keeps coming back. A person lives with it constantly, although it may get better or worse at times. With chronic bronchitis, your cough lasts for at least 3 months in a year and comes back at least 2 years in a row.

Bronchitis affects people of all ages, but it mostly affects children under the age of 5 and adults over the age of 40. It is more common in winter and often comes up after a common cold, sore throat or the flu.


What Causes Bronchitis?

Most often, the same viruses that give you a cold or the flu cause acute bronchitis. But sometimes, bacteria could be the cause.

In both cases, as the body fights the germs, the bronchial tubes swell and make more mucus. That means having smaller opening for air to flow through, which can make it harder to breathe.

While chronic bronchitis occurs as a result of constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to:

  • breathing in polluted air and other things that bother your lungs, like dust, chemical fumes, welding fumes, engine exhaust or other toxic gases, over time

  • smoking or breathing in second hand smoke for a long time

Other possible causes include:

  • genetic factors

  • repeated episodes of acute bronchitis

  • a history of respiratory disease or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Acute bronchitis is contagious, this is because it is caused by a short-term infection (viral or bacterial) which can be transmitted from person to person through mucus droplets discharged when one coughs, sneezes, or talks, these droplets typically spread about 1m, they are suspended in the air for a while, then land on surfaces, where the virus can survive for up to 24 hours.

While acute bronchitis is contagious, chronic bronchitis on the other hand, isn’t contagious. This is because it is not caused by an infection, rather, it is caused by long-term inflammation, which is usually a result of irritants. The inflammation can’t be spread to another person.


Signs and Symptoms of Bronchitis

For either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis, signs and symptoms may include:

  • persistent cough

  • production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in colour - rarely, it may be streaked with blood

  • wheezing or a whistling sound when you breathe

  • low fever and chills

  • chest congestion or discomfort (feeling of tightness in the chest)

  • sore throat

  • body aches

  • shortness of breath

  • headaches

  • blocked nose and sinuses

While some of these symptoms usually may improve in about a week, you may have a nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.



Your doctor usually can tell whether you have bronchitis based on a physical exam and your symptoms. A doctor will carry out a physical examination, using a stethoscope to listen for unusual sounds in the lungs like wheezing.

Your doctor may need to do some tests, depending on whether they think you have acute or chronic bronchitis and to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. These tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can help determine if you have pneumonia or another condition that may explain your cough. This is especially important if you ever were or currently are a smoker.

  • Computed tomography: This CT scan give a much more detailed look at your airways than a chest X-ray.

  • Sputum tests. Sputum is the mucus that you cough up from your lungs. It can be tested to see if you have illnesses that could be helped by antibiotics. Sputum can also be tested for signs of allergies.

  • Pulmonary function test. During a pulmonary function test, you blow into a device called a spirometer, which measures how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can get air out of your lungs. This test checks for signs of asthma or emphysema.


Treatment of Bronchitis

Most of the time, acute bronchitis goes away on its own within a couple of weeks. If caused by bacteria (which is rare), your doctor may give antibiotics.

It should be noted that the use of antibiotics must be recommended by your doctor, because when antibiotics aren’t needed, they won’t help you, and their side effects could still cause harm. Side effects can range from minor issues, like a rash, to very serious health problems.

If you have begun taking antibiotics for bronchitis, you usually stop being contagious 24 hours after starting the medication.

To further ease your acute bronchitis symptoms, you can:

  • Drink a lot of water. Eight to 12 glasses a day helps thin out your mucus and make it easier to cough it up.

  • Get plenty of rest.

If you have a viral form of bronchitis, antibiotics will not work. You will be contagious for at least a few days and possibly for as long as a week. The treatment for the viral form is commonly symptomatic, and can include analgesics for a sore throat, antipyretic medication for fever, and cough suppressants where deemed necessary and effective. A humidifier may also be used in order to increase the humidity of the air and ease the dryness of the respiratory passages, which can cause excessive coughing due to irritation. You also may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation; a breathing exercise programme in which a respiratory therapist teaches you how to breathe more easily and increase your ability to exercise.

If you have allergies, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor may recommend an inhaler and other medications to reduce inflammation and open narrowed passages in your lungs.


Pneumonia is the most common complication of bronchitis. It happens when the infection spreads further into the lungs, causing air sacs inside the lungs to be filled up with fluid. 1 in 20 cases of bronchitis leads to pneumonia.

Mild pneumonia can usually be treated with antibiotics at home. More severe cases may require admission to hospital.

Despite similarities, the conditions are different. First, bronchitis involves the bronchial tubes, while pneumonia affects the alveoli, or the air sacs in the lungs. Second, pneumonia symptoms are usually much worse. In addition, pneumonia can be life-threatening, especially in older people and other vulnerable groups.



If an underlying lung disorder is not present, symptoms of acute bronchitis will usually subside within 7 to 10 days. A dry, hacking cough may however be present for several months after this allotted time. Acute bronchitis usually heals completely, therefore leading to an excellent prognosis.

If any of the symptoms associated with this disorder should remain untreated or uncontrolled it could lead to secondary complications such as pneumonia, which might thus lead to a poorer prognosis.


Preventing Bronchitis

To reduce your chances of getting acute bronchitis or a flare-up of chronic bronchitis:

  • Stop smoking or avoid second-hand smoke.

  • Eat a balanced diet to keep your body as healthy as possible.

  • Get recommended vaccines, such as the flu vaccine since one can contract bronchitis from the flu virus.

  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep.

  • Wash your hands often.

  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose, or eyes if you’re around people with bronchitis.

  • Avoid sharing glasses or utensils.

  • Wear a mask when you are around things that bother your lungs, such as chemical fumes and other irritants.

  • Cover your mouth and nose (preferably with a tissue or your inner elbow) when coughing or sneezing.

  • Take extra care around young children, older people, and those with a weakened immune system.

....making effort to "STAYWELL"



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