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Acute bronchitis

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

Acute bronchitis (inflammation of the airways) is when someone has symptoms such as a cough (you may cough up clear or colored mucus), shortness of breath, a fever, and a runny nose or sore throat. These symptoms are short-lived, typically lasting around three weeks and commonly caused by a viral infection.

Bronchitis is an infection or inflammation of the bronchi, which are the largest airways of the lungs. These airways have a protective mechanism built into them where they produce mucus that traps anything that isn’t welcome in the airways and which could be harmful to the lungs.

When someone has bronchitis, something has irritated the airways causing increased production of mucus – typically a viral or bacterial infection. This leads to the body trying to get rid of the mucus and causes a productive cough.

Doctor’s advice

Is it contagious?

Acute bronchitis can be caused by infections that may be contagious, but the condition itself is not contagious.

Healthwords pharmacists' top tips

If your cough is productive (chesty cough) with mucus or a dry tickly cough, there are different treatments we would recommend trying.

For chesty coughs, treatment with a cough mixture containing guaifenesin or herbal alternatives containing marshmallow and thyme extract may help loosen and expel excess mucus to clear the chest.

For dry and tickly coughs at the back of the throat that are particularly troublesome and frequent, a product such as simple throat lozenges can help. It works by coating the back of the throat to relieve the coughing sensation and does not generally cause drowsiness. Another option is to use a cough suppressant such as dextromethorphan, which can help reduce the cough frequency.

If you have asthma or other lung conditions, then you should ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice, as some medications could make your chest tighter or make your asthma or wheezing worse.

Acetaminophen can also be used to relieve mild fever and pain.

When should I see my doctor?

If you have any worrisome symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain when coughing or breathing, coughing up blood, fever, or feeling severely unwell, then you should seek urgent medical advice.

If you have had a cough for more than three weeks, then it would be best to discuss it with your doctor. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you, and come up with the best next steps. If your bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, you may need treating with antibiotics.

Am I fit for work?

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be fit for work.

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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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