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Acute Bronchitis - Exams and Tests

There are no routine tests to diagnose acute bronchitis. Diagnosis is usually based on your medical history, including your symptoms, and a physical exam. Your doctor will make sure you do not have pneumonia or risk factors for more serious diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), that may affect treatment.

If your doctor feels that your acute bronchitis is caused by:

  • A virus, then no more testing is needed in most cases.
  • Bacteria, then more testing may be done and antibiotics may be prescribed.

More testing may be needed for infants and people older than 65, or if:

  • Acute bronchitis does not clear up in 2 to 3 weeks.
  • Pneumonia, heart failure, or tuberculosis is suspected or has been recently diagnosed.
  • Your immune system is not functioning well (impaired immune system). People with immune problems are more likely to develop complications, such as pneumonia.
  • You have a chronic respiratory disease, such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • You do not get better with antibiotic therapy, or you require hospitalization.
  • You have a heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute, a respiratory rate greater than 24 breaths per minute, and a fever greater than 100.4�F (38�C).
  • Whooping cough, a bacterial infection of the respiratory system , is suspected.
  • Influenza (flu), a viral upper respiratory illness, is suspected.

Sometimes other tests may be needed. These tests may include:

  • Chest X-ray. The result of a chest X-ray of people who have acute bronchitis is usually normal.
  • Gram stain and culture and sensitivity of the mucus from the lungs. These tests may help your doctor find out if bacteria are causing the infection and which antibiotic will be effective.
  • Other tests, including tests to measure blood oxygen levels and tests that can help identify bacteria and viruses. The test results can help your doctor know whether acute bronchitis is seriously harming lung function.

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: August 04, 2010
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.
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