Acute bronchitis typically resolves itself within a few weeks without treatment or with home remedies and over-the-counter (OTC) medications. Chronic bronchitis, however, may require medical attention.

Bronchitis, or a chest cold, is a condition where the lining of the bronchial tubes in the lungs becomes inflamed and excess mucus is produced. This can limit how much air travels in and out of a person’s lungs.

Acute bronchitis is typically caused by a virus. People tend to experience symptoms for up to 3 weeks, and most cases will clear up on their own without medical treatment.

Chronic bronchitis, a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), is more severe. A healthcare professional may make a diagnosis of chronic bronchitis when a person experiences a cough with mucus for more than 3 months within a 2-year period.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important for chronic bronchitis, as it may cause permanent lung scarring.

When to get immediate medical attention

Symptoms of bronchitis that do not improve on their own after 3 weeks may be a sign of a more serious condition.

However, a person should get immediate medical attention if they experience the following symptoms:

  • mucus containing blood
  • trouble breathing, such as gasping, choking, or being unable to speak
  • rapid breathing and chest pain
  • drowsiness and confusion
  • discolored lips, tongue, or skin
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Some medications and treatments for chronic bronchitis may help:

  • relieve symptoms
  • reduce mucus production, inflammation, and coughing
  • prevent complications from developing
  • slow the progression of the condition


Bronchodilators work by relaxing the muscles in the airways. This opens a person’s airways, widens their bronchial tubes, and lubricates their mucus.

Three types of bronchodilators include:

A doctor may prescribe short- or long-acting bronchodilators based on a person’s condition. Short-acting bronchodilators work immediately and last 3–6 hours, while long-acting bronchodilators take longer to act but last 18–24 hours, according to experts.

Some common bronchodilators may include:

Short-acting bronchodilatorsLong-acting bronchodilators
• albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, Proventil HFA)
• levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)
• pirbuterol (Maxair)
salmeterol (Serevent)
• formoterol (Perforomist)
• aclidinium (Tudorza)
• tiotropium (Spiriva)
• umeclidinium (Incruse)

These are available as inhalers and nebulizers.


Glucocorticoids are a type of corticosteroid that may help treat chronic bronchitis by regulating inflammation, reducing mucus production, and suppressing immune reactions.

A doctor will administer glucocorticoids, but only for a short period of time.

Long-term use of glucocorticoids may increase a person’s risk of developing:

Oxygen therapy

In rare cases, oxygen therapy may be required in the hospital for a bronchitis flare-up.

When a person’s lungs and airways are inflamed and have excessive mucus levels, they are not able to take in as much oxygen. This may result in low oxygen blood levels, known as hypoxemia, and can be dangerous.

Over-the-counter (OTC) medications

Some OTC medications may also help treat symptoms of acute bronchitis.

For body aches and pains, a person may try taking:

That said, aspirin should not be given to people under the age of 16 unless advised by a doctor. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may also be hazardous for people with asthma, so individuals with asthma should avoid taking them.

OTC cough medicines may also help treat symptoms of bronchitis. However, a person should avoid cough suppressants because these block the coughing reflex.

Instead, a cough expectorant may help a wet cough by thinning and bringing up the mucus through the respiratory tract.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC) is also a common OTC medication to help treat chronic bronchitis, as it may help reduce mucus production.

Other breathing conditions

People with other respiratory conditions, such as COPD, lung cancer, or asthma should speak with a doctor before trying new medications or home remedies. These may have negative interactions with other medications or trigger symptoms.

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Some home remedies and lifestyle changes may help relieve symptoms of acute bronchitis. That said, not all of these have been clinically tested.

Get plenty of rest

Sleeping may help boost the immune system and aid recovery from infection.

To assist in sleeping, use more pillows to raise the head. This sleeping position may help soothe breathing and clear mucus from the chest.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends that adults need 7–9 hours of sleep per day.

Drink enough fluids

Bronchitis may cause dehydration due to increased fluid loss.

Drinking enough fluids may help:

  • reduce mucus thickness
  • loosen nasal mucus
  • moisten the throat

Some fluids a person may consume include water, herbal tea, and soup.

Use a humidifier

Low humidity and cold temperatures have been connected with an increase in respiratory tract infections. Low humidity may also irritate nasal passages and the throat, plus cause itchy eyes and dry skin.

Humidifiers may help treat bronchitis symptoms by emitting water vapor or steam to increase the moisture levels in a room.

Inhaling steam with an inhalation device may also help loosen mucus and encourage it to drain away.

Avoid smoking

Smoking is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis. It damages the bronchial tubes and breaks down the body’s defense against infection. Inhaling smoke may trigger severe fits of coughing if a person has bronchitis.

Quitting smoking altogether or cutting down may limit bronchial tube damage and promote faster healing. A person who quits smoking is also less likely to get acute bronchitis in the future.

Try pursed-lip breathing

People with chronic bronchitis often breathe fast. A breathing method called pursed-lip breathing may help slow down the breathing pace and manage shortness of breath.

The method works by reducing how often a breath is taken, which keeps the airways open for a longer period.

To do pursed-lip breathing, a person should first inhale through the nostrils for two counts. Then, breathe out slowly through slightly pursed lips while counting to four.

Soothe a sore throat

A common symptom of bronchitis is a sore throat. There are many ways to soothe a sore throat, including:

  • gargling saltwater
  • drinking cool or warm fluids
  • eating cool and soft foods
  • sucking lozenges, hard candy, or ice cubes

Children under the age of 4 should not be given anything small and hard due to the risk of choking.

Acute bronchitis will usually go away on its own without treatment and typically lasts for up to 3 weeks.

That said, persistent symptoms of bronchitis lasting more than 3 weeks may be a sign of another condition, such as:

A person should contact a doctor if:

  • a cough is severe and lasts more than 3 weeks
  • they are over 65 years old
  • they have a long-term health condition
  • mucus contains blood
  • breathing is rapid or there are chest pains

Having a fever for more than 3 days may also indicate a more serious condition, such as pneumonia.

Does bronchitis need antibiotics?

Antibiotics help treat bacterial infections by slowing down or killing bacteria. Since bronchitis is typically caused by viral infections, doctors do not commonly prescribe antibiotics to treat them. That said, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics if they think a person’s bronchitis is caused by bacteria.

What are 3 symptoms of bronchitis?

Symptoms of bronchitis may include:

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation and excess mucus. Although most cases of acute bronchitis last up to 3 weeks and go away on their own, chronic bronchitis may present long-term problems.

Treatment options depend on the severity of a person’s condition, but they may range from lifestyle changes and natural remedies to OTC medications and surgery.