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Acute Bronchitis

Alternate Names

  • inflammation of the bronchi
  • infection of the bronchi
  • Lungs and bronchial tree

Definition

Acute bronchitis is inflammation, or swelling, of one or more bronchi. Bronchi are the branches of the main windpipe that carry oxygen into the lungs.

What is going on in the body?

Acute bronchitis is often caused by an infection from virus or bacteria. The infection irritates the lining of the air passages called bronchi. This causes the symptoms of bronchitis.

Risks

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a viral infection. It is now considered unusual for bacteria to cause this disease. Breathing air that contains irritants, such as chemical fumes, acid fumes, dust or smoke, increases the risk of the disease. Rarely acute bronchitis can be caused by fungal infections.

Prevention

What can be done to prevent the infection?

A person can decrease the risk for getting acute bronchitis by:
  • avoiding close contact with people who have bronchitis
  • washing his or her hands frequently and completely through the day
  • stopping smoking
  • wearing a face mask when working with chemicals, dust, or other lung irritants

Diagnosed

How is the infection diagnosed?

A medical history and physical exam are usually enough to diagnose this infection.
A chest X-ray may be done, not to diagnosis bronchitis, but to rule out possible pneumonia. Pneumonia is not a common result from acute bronchitis. A person may be asked to give a sample of the mucus, called sputum, that he or she coughs up to be examined by the laboratory.

Long Term Effects

What are the long-term effects of the infection?

The cough of acute bronchitis may take up to 8 weeks to resolve, but tends to improve week-to-week. Once the infection is over, there are generally no long-term effects. Some persons, especially smokers, are more likely to develop repeated bouts of acute bronchitis.

Other Risks

What are the risks to others?

Acute bronchitis is often catching. A person who has symptoms of bronchitis should cover the mouth when coughing Both the ill person and anyone who cares for him or her should also avoid sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses, and wash their hands frequently.

Treatments

What are the treatments for the infection?

Treatment is aimed at relieving symptoms and may include the following:
  • pain medicine for minor discomfort and to reduce fever
  • cough suppressant
  • cough expectorant, to thin the mucus and make it easier to cough up
  • antibiotics, if the cause is bacterial
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • increasing air moisture with the use of a cool-mist humidifier
  • stopping smoking while sick. Smoking delays recovery and makes complications more likely.
Recent studies have shown that people with acute bronchitis treated with antibiotics do not get well any more quickly than those not treated with antibiotics.

Side Effects

What are the side effects of the treatments?

Some people have allergic reactions to medicines or may get an upset stomach from them. Antibiotics may cause diarrhea as well.

After Treatment

What happens after treatment for the infection?

Once the person feels better, he or she is free to return to regular activities.

Monitor

How is the infection monitored?

Once the person has recovered, no further monitoring is required unless there are repeated bouts of acute bronchitis or other serious medical problems. Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the doctor.

Sources

Conn's Current Therapy, 1999, Rakel et al

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