Bronchitis (Acute)

Medical Author : Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

Medical Editor : Jerry R. Balentine, DO, FACEP

Acute bronchitis facts

  • Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes.
  • The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a viral or bacterial infection, but other causes may include irritants like tobacco smoke, air pollution, or chemicals.
  • The primary symptom of acute bronchitis is a cough. Other symptoms may include:
  • Children with acute bronchitis may have symptoms of:
    • a runny nose,
    • mild fever, and
    • cough up sputum or vomit mucus.
  • Acute bronchitis can be contagious, however, acute bronchitis caused by exposure to pollutants, tobacco smoke and other chemicals is not contagious
  • Acute bronchitis is diagnosed by the patient's history, physical exam, and possibly procedures or tests.
  • Some home remedies may relieve bronchitis symptoms.
  • Some medications may relieve bronchitis symptoms, for example, cough suppressants, NSAIDs, acetaminophen, and antibiotics (for bacterial infections only). In children under age 2, a pediatrician should be consulted before OCT medicines are used.

Acute bronchitis definition

Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes (the airways that allow air to pass from the mouth to the lungs) that usually is caused by viruses or bacteria. Although other irritants for example, smoke or pollution, also may cause the disease, they are far less frequent causes. A cough lasting 5 or more days suggests acute bronchitis as a cause. People with recurrent acute bronchitis may develop chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a cough that occurs every day with sputum production that lasts for at least 3 months, 2 years in a row.

What is, and what are the causes of acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is inflammation of the bronchial tubes, and a cough lasting 5 or more days suggests acute bronchitis as a cause. People with recurrent acute bronchitis may develop chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a cough that occurs every day with sputum production that lasts for at least 3 months, 2 years in a row.

The most common causes of acute bronchitis are viruses. Influenza, parainfluenza, RSV, rhinovirus and adenovirus, and corona viruses are the main viral genera, but many people develop fairly mild symptoms so often the viral genus is never determined. Bacteria are less common the causative agents of acute bronchitis. Bacterial causes of the disease include:

Other irritants (for example, tobacco smoke, chemicals, etc.) may irritate the bronchi and cause acute bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?

Coughing is the most common symptom of acute bronchitis. The coughing begins early in the disease and usually lasts about 10 to 20 days as it gradually subsides. About 50% of individuals have a productive cough with either clear, yellow, greenish, or occasionally blood tinged sputum. The other symptoms may include:

Children may also have a runny nose, mild fever, and may gag or vomit mucus. If a person develops fever, shortness of breath, cyanosis or chest pain, they likely have another problem but not acute bronchitis.

What are the risk factors for acute bronchitis?

Risk factors for acute bronchitis are the same as those for getting viral and bacterial infections and two include; 1) being in close contact with people that are coughing, sneezing, and touching items that infected persons recently handled. 2) People that are exposed to air pollution, tobacco smoke, and to chemicals that are aerosolized are at higher risk for acute bronchitis. Unfortunately, many people worldwide are at risk; as many as 44 per 1000 individuals may develop acute bronchitis per year. The highest risks for the disease are the winter months.

Is acute bronchitis contagious?

The majority of people with acute bronchitis are contagious if the cause is an infectious agent such as a virus or bacterium. People are usually less likely to be contagious as the symptoms wane. However, acute bronchitis that is caused by exposure to pollutants, tobacco smoke, or other environmental agents is not contagious.

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Because acute bronchitis has many causes is often self-limiting within 10 to 20 days and its main symptom is coughing, most doctors consider the diagnosis after a history and physical without additional tests. If the diagnosis is not clear or the specific cause needs to be identified , such tests as sputum cytology, throat cultures, influenza tests, chest X-rays, blood gas, procalcitonin levels and even bronchoscopy have been used to identify specific viral, bacterial and other sources or causes or rule out more severe illnesses (such as a pneumonia). In many people, the symptoms of acute bronchitis are mild to moderate and symptoms like cough are treated for a few days before a more extensive workup is begun.

What treatments are there for acute bronchitis?

Bed rest and supportive care such as reducing coughing are the main treatments for acute bronchitis. In most individuals, antibiotics are not needed, especially those who have as cause viral or environmental factors. For some patients who have wheezing with their cough, beta2 agonists may be helpful (bronchodilators). Perhaps the most useful treatments are directed at reducing coughing symptoms with over the counter preparations containing guaifenesin and mucolytics. NSAIDs are often added to reduce inflammation and help relieve discomfort. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics does not recommend giving OTC cough and cold medications to children under two years of age; these medicines may cause harmful side-effects that can be life-threatening to young children.

Acute bronchitis home remedies

Home remedies may help reduce acute bronchitis symptoms. For example, staying well hydrated by drinking fluids, breathing humidified air, and avoiding dairy products as well as may keep secretions thin and more easily removed. Alcohol and caffeine should be avoided as they can interact with some of the ingredients of OTC cold preparations. Over-the-counter cough suppressants and cough drops can help reduce coughing symptoms and NSAIDs and/or acetaminophen (Tylenol and others) may reduce discomfort (aspirin, especially in children and young adults is not recommended due to the risk of Reye's syndrome). However, before trying these at home, read the labels to be sure they are safe for you to use.

In addition, avoiding air pollution by staying indoors, by avoiding tobacco smoke and other environmental bronchial irritants may reduce symptoms. If symptoms worsen, see your doctor. For children under age 2 (and some doctors recommend under age 6), the doctor should be consulted before OTC medicines are used.

Acute bronchitis medications

The following medication(s) may be helpful for individuals with acute bronchitis.

  • Cough suppressants
  • Mucolytics
  • NSAIDs and/or acetaminophen
  • Inhaler(s)
  • Antibiotic(s); only if indicated by a suspected or diagnosed bacterial cause
  • Caution: check with a pediatric doctor before use of drugs in young children

When should I contact my doctor about acute bronchitis?

Most individuals do not need to contact their doctor as the disease is usually limited to about 10 to 20 days and resolves. However, the doctor should be seen if symptoms become severe or if fever develops and persists. In addition, if other symptoms develop (short of breath, night sweats) or if the symptoms persist past about 20 day or if you have repeated bouts of acute bronchitis during the year, you should contact your doctor. Children with suspected acute bronchitis, especially those aged 2 and under, should be seen by their pediatric doctor. Some doctors recommend that children under 6 years old be seen by their pediatric doctor.

What are the possible complications of acute bronchitis?

Complications of acute bronchitis are infrequent but include pneumonia (viral and/or bacterial), chronic bronchitis, asthma, and sinusitis. In addition, depending on the pathogen, complications include tuberculosis,whooping cough (pertussis), and other infectious lung diseases.

 

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