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Acute Bronchitis - Treatment Overview

Treatment for acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people usually includes taking steps to reduce cough, fever, and pain. Prescription medicines, such as antibiotics, generally are not beneficial. If you already have a disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart failure, or asthma, evaluation and treatment may be more extensive.

Most cases of acute bronchitis go away in 2 to 3 weeks, but some may last more than 4 weeks. Home treatment to relieve symptoms is usually all that is needed. This includes:

  • Stopping smoking, if you smoke, and not letting other people smoke around you.
  • Relieving your cough by drinking fluids, using cough drops, and avoiding lung irritants. Over-the-counter cough suppressants may help you to stop coughing. And expectorants may make coughing easier so you can bring up mucus. Cough and cold medicines may not be safe for young children or for people who have certain health problems. Before you use them, check the label. If you do use these medicines, always follow the directions about how much to use based on age and in some cases weight.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol, which cause you to lose extra fluid from your body and may lead to dehydration.
  • Getting enough rest so your body has the energy needed to fight the infection. In general, you feel better sooner if you rest more than usual while you have acute bronchitis.
  • Using nonprescription medicine, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, or aspirin, to relieve fever and body aches. Follow all directions on the label. If you give medicine to your baby, follow your doctor’s advice about what amount to give. Do not give aspirin to anyone younger than age 20 because of the risk of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious disease.
  • Breathing moist air from a humidifier, hot shower, or sink filled with hot water. The heat and moisture can help keep mucus in your airways moist so it can be coughed out easily.

If prescription medicines are required, they may include:

  • Inhaled beta2-agonists, which open up (dilate) the airways and may relieve coughing in people with asthma or COPD who have a hard time breathing. But the possible benefit should be weighed against possible side effects of shaking, tremor, and nervousness.
  • Antibiotics, which may be used to treat people who are at increased risk for complications from acute bronchitis. They may also be used if symptoms do not improve after using a beta2-agonist and home treatment. For acute bronchitis in otherwise healthy people, antibiotics typically are not beneficial. For more information, see:
    dplink.gif Bronchitis: Should I Take Antibiotics?

What to Think About

Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, which are not affected by antibiotics. Using antibiotics when they are not needed is expensive, it can lead to side effects from antibiotic therapy, and some bacteria may become resistant to the antibiotic. This resistance may make the antibiotic less effective the next time it is used. Talk to your doctor about antibiotics. Find out whether they are needed and what their benefits and risks are in treating acute bronchitis.

It is important to seek medical care if you have a long-term (chronic) lung disease such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and you have signs of acute bronchitis. Early treatment of acute bronchitis may prevent complications, such as pneumonia or repeated episodes of acute bronchitis caused by bacteria. This commonly occurs in people who smoke and in people with immune system problems, such as HIV infection, cystic fibrosis, and cancer.

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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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