Acute Bronchitis

(Bronchitis, Acute; Lower Respiratory Tract Infection, Chest Cold)


Acute bronchitis is a short-term lung infection. Airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and make more phlegm than normal. This causes severe coughing.

Bronchi of Lungs

lungs and bronchioles
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Viruses are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. Bacteria can also cause it, but this is not as common.

Risk Factors

Things that raise the risk are:

  • Having a cold or the flu
  • Being around others who are sick
  • Smoking, or being near others who smoke
  • Having allergies or asthma
  • Working with certain substances that can cause irritation of airways such as:
    • Ammonia
    • Chlorine
    • Minerals
    • Dusts from farming
  • Having a weak immune system


Acute bronchitis can cause:

  • Coughing
  • Breathing problems
  • Wheezing
  • Slight fever
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose


The doctor will ask about your symptoms and past health. A physical exam may be done. Diagnosis is often based on symptoms.


An infection caused by a virus will usually go away on its own within a week. The cough can last for up to a month.

The goal of treatment is to ease symptoms. It includes:

  • Drinking more fluids
  • Resting
  • Medicines to lower fever and manage coughing
  • Inhalers to open airways and ease breathing

An infection caused by bacteria will also need antibiotics.


The risk of acute bronchitis can be lowered by:

  • Washing hands often
  • Staying away from sick people
  • Not smoking


American Lung Association
Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians


The College of Family Physicians of Canada
The Lung Association


About antibiotic use and resistance. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at:
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Accessed February 2, 2021.
Acute bronchitis. American Academy of Family Physicians Family Doctor website. Available at: . Accessed February 2, 2021.
Acute bronchitis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: Accessed February 2, 2021.
Smith SM, Fahey T, Smucny J, Becker LA. Antibiotics for acute bronchitis. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;6:CD000245.
Last reviewed February 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board David L. Horn, MD, FACP
Last Updated: 2/2/2021

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