Acute Bronchitis

Illustration of  the  anatomy of the respiratory system, adult
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What is acute bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the breathing tubes (airways) that are called bronchi, which causes increased production of mucus and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the two most common are acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of mucous membranes of the bronchial tubes.

What causes acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses. It may also be caused by physical or chemical agents - dusts, allergens, strong fumes - and those from chemical cleaning compounds, or tobacco smoke. Acute asthmatic bronchitis may happen as the result of an asthma attack, or it may be the cause of an asthma attack.

Acute bronchitis is usually a mild, and self-limiting condition, with complete healing and return to function.

Acute bronchitis may follow the common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in people with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. It can be serious in people with pulmonary or cardiac diseases. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.

What are the symptoms acute bronchitis?

The following are the most common symptoms for acute bronchitis. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • runny nose
  • malaise
  • chills
  • slight fever
  • back and muscle pain
  • sore throat
  • wheezing
  • early - dry, non-productive cough
  • later - abundant mucus-filled cough

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Consult your physician for a diagnosis.

How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?

Acute bronchitis is usually diagnosed by completing a medical history and physical examination. Many tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. The following tests may be ordered to help confirm a diagnosis:

  • chest x-rays - diagnostic tests which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • arterial blood gas  - to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (like a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.
  • cultures of nasal discharge and sputum  - a test used to find and identify the microorganism causing an infection.
  • lung (pulmonary function) tests - diagnostic tests that help to measure the lungs' ability to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide appropriately. The tests are usually performed with special machines that a person must breathe into.

Treatment for acute bronchitis:

Specific treatment for acute bronchitis will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

In most cases, antibiotic treatment is not necessary to treat acute bronchitis, since most of the infections are caused by viruses. Even people who have been coughing for longer than eight to 10 days usually do not need antibiotics. Most of the treatment is designed to address the symptoms, and may include:

  • analgesics, such as acetaminophen for fever and discomfort
  • cough medicine
  • increased fluid intake

Antihistamines should be avoided in most cases because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.



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