What is Acute Bronchitis? Understanding Acute Bronchitis

If you’ve experienced acute bronchitis in the past, you’re not alone: 10 million Americans visit a doctor for symptoms diagnosed as acute bronchitis (more often simply known as “bronchitis”) each year. [1] Most often, acute bronchitis becomes apparent with a cough, caused by inflammation of the airways. [2] Most often, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection like a cold or flu, though sometimes it is caused by a bacterial infection or exposure to another irritant, like chemicals. [3]

Acute bronchitis can also stem from sinus infections [4]—this is for two reasons. The first being there is a theory known as the "one airway" model [5], indicating due to the similar cellular structure of the sinuses and lungs, the response of one will impact the response of the other, such as in the case of inflammation [5]. The second reason is that, due to this connected airway, the infection can spread from the sinuses to the lungs, triggering inflammation. [6]

Acute bronchitis does not always need treatment, and can last just a few days or up to 10 days [2] —sometimes a cough can linger for three weeks or more. [7] Individuals with asthma, COPD, or other lung diseases may need extra treatment such as inhaled or oral corticosteroids to help them recover from acute bronchitis. [3][7] Individuals with lung disease like asthma may also acquire infections such as acute bronchitis more often than those without asthma. [8]

Preventing acute bronchitis is the same as preventing other common respiratory illnesses—frequent hand washing, avoiding people who are sick, and maintaining overall good health can help individuals with and without asthma avoid acquiring acute bronchitis. Masks may be effective in preventing some illnesses, but it is important to speak with your doctor, as they may also exacerbate breathing issues. [9] Avoiding smoke exposure—and quitting if you do smoke—can also help cut down on the incidence of bronchitis, both caused by infection and the irritants in cigarettes. [10][11]

Due to the link with other infections, receiving the flu shot early in flu season may also help decrease risk of acquiring bronchitis that develops as a result of another infection. For those at high risk, such as those with lung disease, their doctor may also recommend the pneumonia vaccine. If you are not sure if you need these shots, ask your doctor for more information.

Information on this page is for reference and educational purposes only. For more information about acute bronchitis, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: December 20, 2018

[1] Tackett, KL; Atkins, A (December 2012). "Evidence-based acute bronchitis therapy". Journal of pharmacy practice. 25 (6): 586–90. Published: October 16, 2012. https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0897190012460826
[2] Mayo Clinic. Bronchitis. Last updated: April 11, 2017https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bronchitis/symptoms-causes/syc-20355566
[3] National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI). Bronchitis. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/bronchitis
[4] ScienceDaily. Sinusitis Is Common Yet Often Overlooked Cause Of Chronic Cough. Published: November 3, 2005. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/11/051103082337.htm
[5] Grossman, J. (1997). One airway, one disease. Chest, 111(2), 11S-16S.
[6] Everyday Health. Lee, K. (2018, February 6). Understanding what causes bronchitis and how to prevent it. Last updated: February 6, 2018. https://www.everydayhealth.com/lung-and-respiratory/bronchitis/understanding-what-causes-bronchitis-how-prevent-it/
[7] Vann, M. R. (2018, February 5). Is it asthma, bronchitis, or both? Everyday health. Last updated: February 6, 2018. https://www.everydayhealth.com/asthma/bronchitis-or-asthma.aspx#asthmaandacutebronchitis
[8] Corne, J. M., Marshall, C., Smith, S., Schreiber, J., Sanderson, G., Holgate, S. T., & Johnston, S. L. (2002). Frequency, severity, and duration of rhinovirus infections in asthmatic and non-asthmatic individuals: a longitudinal cohort study. The Lancet, 359(9309), 831-834.
[9] The Guardian. Fuller, G. (2018, 10 May). Pollutionwatch: Do face masks really prevent the ill effects of pollution?. https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/may/10/pollutionwatch-how-effective-are-face-masks-beijing
[10] Jones, L. L., Hashim, A., McKeever, T., Cook, D. G., Britton, J., & Leonardi-Bee, J. (2011). Parental and household smoking and the increased risk of bronchitis, bronchiolitis and other lower respiratory infections in infancy: systematic review and meta-analysis. Respiratory research, 12(1), 5.
[11] Bagaitkar, J., Demuth, D., Scott, D. (2008) Tobacco use increases susceptivility to bacterial infection. Tobacco Induced Diseases, 4(1), 12 http://www.tobaccoinduceddiseases.org/Tobacco-use-increases-susceptibility-to-bacterial-infection,65943,0,2.html

About Kerri M: Kerri is a blogger, coach, quantified self-er, and ePatient. A former gym class hater, she now holds a Bachelor of Physical and Health Education. Diagnosed with asthma in 2008 when she was 16, Kerri believes she is not defined by her diagnoses, but rather that they help explain her. Kerri writes for work and fun (often simultaneously!) on topics including asthma, ADHD, learning issues, patient engagement, and technology. Airplanes, t-shirts and cupcakes are among her favorite things.

2 thoughts on “What is Acute Bronchitis? Understanding Acute Bronchitis”

  • heather

    can anyone please guide I was looking for help, and have stumbled here today
    I’ve been diagnosed with both asthma and chronic bronchitis at different times in the past. Recently (past 6 months) my normal OTC hasnt been preventing symptoms well. Most of the day every day I have coughing fits and constantly feel like I need to clear my throat. This has always been solved by taking a 24 hour allergy tab (allegra) and using my albuterol inhaler if the preventative allergy med fails me. This is not bringing any relief. Not serious enough symptoms to worry about an acute asthma attack with high risk but sick of constantly coughing and feeling like my throat needs clearing. Any recommendations on additional/alternative preventative measures or other diagnoses that may have been previously missed that would cause these symptoms are appreciated. Even if it’s a EverydayHealth.com information, I would appreciate any thoughts that may steer me in the direction of relief. No other chronic conditions No drug/alcohol use No current tobacco use Former smoker/Last smoked 10 years ago.

    • Margaret Goodman
      Margaret Goodman August 23, 2018 at 4:49 am

      I recommend that you speak with your doctor about your systems. We do not have a doctor on staff and are unable to provide medical advice.


Leave a Comment