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.
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
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
Some medications and treatments for chronic bronchitis
- 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:
- beta 2-agonists
- xanthine derivatives
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
Some common bronchodilators may include:
|Short-acting bronchodilators||Long-acting bronchodilators|
|• albuterol (ProAir HFA, Ventolin HFA, Proventil HFA)|
• levalbuterol (Xopenex HFA)
• pirbuterol (Maxair)
|• salmeterol (Serevent)|
• formoterol (Perforomist)
• aclidinium (Tudorza)
• tiotropium (Spiriva)
• umeclidinium (Incruse)
A doctor will administer glucocorticoids, but only for a short period of time.
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.
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.
Get plenty of rest
Sleeping may help
To assist in sleeping, use more pillows to raise the head. This sleeping position may help soothe breathing and clear mucus from the chest.
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.
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
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
That said, persistent symptoms of bronchitis lasting more than 3 weeks may be a sign of another condition, such as:
- gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- viral pharyngitis
- congestive heart failure
- pulmonary embolism
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.