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Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the major airways into the lungs. It may be caused by a variety of bacteria and viruses. These viruses can be spread in the air when a person coughs. They also can be spread through physical contact, such as through unwashed hands.

Acute bronchitis can last from a few days to 10 days. But the cough that comes with acute bronchitis may last for several weeks after the infection has gone.

Bronchitis Symptoms

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may include:

  1. Cough, which may produce clear, yellow or green mucus
  2. Wheezing
  3. Low fever
  4. Chest tightness or pain
  5. Shortness of breath (in severe cases)

Your healthcare provider will ask questions about your medical history and your symptoms, such as whether you've recently had a cold or the flu. He or she may also ask whether you smoke or are exposed to smoke or other lung irritants such as air pollution, dust or fumes.

Your healthcare provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to detect abnormal breathing sounds such as wheezing. Other possible tests include:

  1. Examination of mucus to see if you have a bacterial infection
  2. Test for blood oxygen levels using a sensor attached to your finger or toe
  3. Chest x-ray
  4. Lung function tests
  5. Blood tests

Your healthcare provider may recommend rest, lots of fluids, and fever-reducing medication such as acetaminophen.

If the doctor thinks you have a bacterial infection, you may be given antibiotics. But antibiotics don't work against viruses, which are the most common cause of acute bronchitis.

Other treatments may include:

  1. A humidifier or steam to ease breathing and help loosen mucus
  2. Inhaled medicine to open airways if you are wheezing
  3. Cough medicine