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Inflammation of the Bronchi - Acute Bronchitis


Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

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.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a viral infection such as the flu. Sometimes bacteria can cause this disease as well. Breathing air that contains irritants, such as chemical fumes, acid fumes, dust or smoke, increases the risk of the disease.


Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

Acute bronchitis causes:

  • dry cough at first, followed by a productive cough later that brings up mucus
  • fever, usually less than 101 degrees Fahrenheit
  • chest discomfort, or even chest pain
  • difficulty breathing, called shortness of breath
  • fatigue
  • headache
  • malaise, which is the medical term for feeling lousy

  • Diagnosis & Tests

    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 to check for possible pneumonia, but 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.


    Prevention & Expectations

    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
  • What are the long-term effects of the infection?

    Acute bronchitis may take up to 8 weeks to resolve. 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.

    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.


    Treatment & Monitoring

    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.
  • 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.

    What happens after treatment for the infection?

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

    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.


    Attribution

    Author:Adam Brochert, MD
    Date Written:
    Editor:Crist, Gayle P., MS, BA
    Edit Date:06/20/02
    Reviewer:Gail Hendrickson, RN, BS
    Date Reviewed:09/24/01

    Sources

    Conn's Current Therapy, 1999, Rakel et al


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