Acute Bronchitis - What Happens
Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the tubes that carry air to the lungs
(bronchial tubes). It is usually caused by a virus and follows an
upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or
influenza (flu). The infection moves from the nose,
mouth, and throat to the bronchial tubes, causing the tubes to swell and mucus
production to increase.
At first, a dry, hacking cough is
present. After a few days, the cough may bring up mucus from the lungs. The
swollen tubes and increase in mucus may make it harder for you to
See a picture of
acute bronchitis .
Most cases of acute bronchitis in otherwise
healthy people last only 2 to 3 weeks. But more than 20 out of 100 people with acute
bronchitis have a cough that lasts more than 4 weeks.2
How soon you get better depends on several things,
- Your age and health.
- The organism causing the infection. Acute bronchitis from a
viral cause is usually less severe than from a
- Whether you smoke.
Most people get better without
having complications. If complications occur, they include:
If you have a long-term (chronic) respiratory disease,
asthma, acute bronchitis can make your coughing and
wheezing worse and can increase the risk of having complications. In this
case, acute bronchitis is a more serious problem and may be treated
Children and older adults are most at risk for
Children who have repeated bouts of acute bronchitis
need to be evaluated to see whether they may have a foreign object in the air
passage. Children may also be evaluated for asthma or other respiratory tract
problems, such as:
Cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that results in
the production of thick mucus in the lungs.
Bronchiectasis, a lung condition in which the airways
of the lungs are damaged, get bigger, and are frequently infected. A common
symptom is a cough that brings up mucus.
Allergies, which are an
immune system reaction to usually harmless substances.
Symptoms include cough and difficulty breathing.
Allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is a common
Sinusitis, an infection of the
mucous membranes that line the inside of the nose and
facial sinuses. Symptoms include pain and a chronic cough that produces
Adenoiditis, an inflammation of the
adenoids , which are small masses of tissue at the back
of the nose and throat.