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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Acute Bronchitis - Topic Overview

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. This usually gives the doctor enough information to find out if you have acute bronchitis.

In some cases, you may need a chest X-ray or other tests to make sure that you don't have pneumonia, whooping cough, or another lung problem. This is especially true if you've had bronchitis for a few weeks and aren't getting better. More testing also may be needed for babies, older adults, and people who have lung disease (such as asthma or COPD) or other health problems.

How is it treated?

Most people can treat symptoms of acute bronchitis at home and don't need antibiotics or other prescription medicines. (Antibiotics don't help with viral bronchitis. And even bronchitis caused by bacteria will usually go away on its own.)

The following may help you feel better:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Suck on cough drops or hard candies to soothe a dry or sore throat. Cough drops won't stop your cough, but they may make your throat feel better.
  • Breathe moist air from a humidifier, a hot shower, or a sink filled with hot water. The heat and moisture can help keep mucus in your airways moist so you can cough it out easily.
  • Use nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, to relieve fever and body aches. Don't give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20.
  • Rest more than usual.
  • Drink plenty of fluids so that you do not become dehydrated.
  • Use an over-the-counter cough medicine if your doctor recommends it. (Cough medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems.) Cough suppressants may help you to stop coughing. Expectorants can help you bring up mucus when you cough.

If you have signs of bronchitis and have heart or lung disease (such as heart failure, asthma, or COPD) or another serious health problem, talk to your doctor right away. You may need treatment with antibiotics or medicines to help with your breathing. Early treatment may prevent complications, such as pneumonia or repeated episodes of acute bronchitis caused by bacteria.

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