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What’s in a Cough? Your Home Guide to Acute Bronchitis

Young woman battling bronchitis

What is Acute Bronchitis?

You already know it by the cough — the truly awful cough. Technically speaking, that’s the sound of inflammation in the trachea and large airways, wherea lower respiratory infection has formed. The lining of the bronchioles (tubes in the lungs) are inflamed, and usually, viruses are to blame: influenza A/B, rhinovirus, and adenovirus.

While viral about 90% of the time, acute bronchitis can be bacterial as well — which matters. The duration and severity of symptoms for viral and bacterial bronchitis differ. Don’t confuse acute bronchitis with asthma or pneumonia, either. The progression of the illness — and its treatment (see below) — are not the same.

So, Do I Have Acute Bronchitis?

The diagnosis for acute bronchitis is usually made when an acute cough persists more than 5 days (with or without sputum, aka mucus, production). Other symptoms of a lower respiratory infection can include:

  • nasal congestion
  • runny nose
  • fatigue
  • sore throat
  • wheezing

The signs that are NOT associated with acute bronchitis include:

  • fever (although low-grade fever may occur from time to time)
  • rapid heart rate

These signs typically suggest a case of pneumonia (fluid in the lungs due to infection), which requires a different medication regimen and could lead to hospitalization if left untreated. COPD patients should be aware that chronic bronchitis (a type of COPD characterized by inflammation-induced symptoms that persist or keep coming back) can make them more vulnerable to pneumonia. When in doubt, always consult your doctor.  

Talk Treatment to Me

The good news is that acute bronchitis is self-limiting, which means it doesn’t require treatment to  resolve. Patients should be aware that acute bronchitis regimens treat symptoms only — runny nose, wheezing, etc. Therefore, antibiotics are not usually recommended (unless the acute bronchitis is diagnosed as bacterial).

What’s available for over-the-counter relief? Look for antitussives or cough syrups that contain expectorants, antihistamines, or decongestants (dextromethorphan, codeine, and hydrocodone, specifically). Still wheezing? An inhaler should do the trick. Still just kind of…icky feeling? Tylenol or Ibuprofen are reliable for general discomfort. And when the respiratory symptoms do resolve, don’t worry if that signature bronchial cough sticks around: It’s known to overstay its welcome, up to three or four weeks.

Start Recovery Today

Reserve a spot at InstaCare if your cough persists for more than four weeks, or if symptoms such as wheezing, congestion, and sore throat do not improve with over-the-counter treatment. If experiencing pneumonia symptoms (fever, rapid heart rate), make a reservation as soon as possible for your same-day or next-day visit.  

Make your InstaCare reservation now.