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Bronchitis involves inflammation and swelling of the bronchi tubes, which are the airways going to the lungs. The condition develops in both children and adults and may be either acute or chronic.
To find out how long bronchitis lasts, continue reading below.
The length of time it takes for a person to recover from bronchitis depends on whether they have acute or chronic bronchitis.
According to the American Lung Association, acute bronchitis usually lasts for between 3–10 days, although some symptoms, such as coughing, can last longer.
Chronic bronchitis lasts longer than acute bronchitis. Symptoms of chronic bronchitis last for at least 3 months out of the year. In many cases, symptoms last even longer.
Acute and chronic bronchitis both involve inflammation of the airways and have similar symptoms. However, they also have some differences.
Typically, acute bronchitis occurs suddenly due to a viral infection. Bacteria cause acute bronchitis in less than 10% of cases.
An infection, such as a cold, may start in the upper airway and travel to the bronchial tubes. Although symptoms may last 1–2 weeks, the condition is temporary.
Acute bronchitis typically does not cause permanent breathing problems in most people. However, people with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, or those with a weakened immune system are at increased risk of complications.
Chronic means the condition lasts a long time. Although the severity of symptoms does not always remain constant, the disease does not go away.
Chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Doctors consider bronchitis as chronic if a person coughs and produces mucus for at least 3 months out of the year for 2 years in a row.
The most frequent cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Smoking damages the airways and leads to an overproduction of mucus in the lungs. The increased mucus causes airflow obstructions.
Over time, chronic bronchitis can lead to permanent damage to the lungs, such as decreased lung function.
Symptoms of bronchitis may include:
- productive cough
- sore chest from coughing
- chest tightness or congestion
The symptoms of acute bronchitis usually come on suddenly. Chronic bronchitis symptoms appear gradually and usually worsen over time.
Acute bronchitis may also cause a low grade fever. People with chronic bronchitis may also have frequent respiratory infections and shortness of breath.
Chronic bronchitis typically occurs in adults. Acute bronchitis can develop in both adults and children. The symptoms of acute bronchitis are usually similar in adults and children.
Children are more likely also to have a runny nose and gagging along with other symptoms.
Acute bronchitis usually runs its course and clears up in a couple of weeks. There are instances when it is helpful to see a doctor, though.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that a person sees a doctor if they experience:
- symptoms that do not clear up in 3 weeks
- a fever of 100.4°F or higher
- repeated bouts of bronchitis
- a cough accompanied by bloody mucus
If people have any concerns about a cough, even if they do not have any other symptoms, they should see their healthcare provider to find the best treatment.
Anyone who has severe symptoms will need urgent care. Seek immediate medical attention if any of the following symptoms develop:
- trouble breathing
- bluish skin or nails
- severe shortness of breath
Treatment for bronchitis depends on whether the condition is chronic or acute. Acute bronchitis does not usually require any treatment and resolves on its own.
Since viruses cause most cases of acute bronchitis, doctors will not prescribe antibiotics to treat it.
There is a variety of other remedies that a person can try to help reduce symptoms:
Plenty of fluids: Drinking plenty of water helps thin the mucus, which makes it easier to cough out of the lungs.
Cough suppressants: Both over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription cough suppressants can reduce coughing and ease discomfort.
A humidifier: Using a humidifier or inhaling steam from a shower may help ease chest congestion associated with bronchitis. A range of humidifiers is available for purchase online.
Throat lozenges: Frequent coughing from bronchitis may cause a sore throat. Sucking on throat lozenges may decrease pain.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): Bronchitis may cause chest and rib pain from coughing. Acute bronchitis may also lead to a low grade fever. OTC NSAIDs may reduce fever and discomfort.
Inhaled breathing treatments: Inhaled breathing medications, such as albuterol, relax the muscles around the airways and open them up. Medicines can help decrease wheezing and make breathing easier.
Although there is currently no cure for chronic bronchitis, treatment may help reduce the severity of symptoms and improve quality of life.
Treatment for chronic bronchitis may include some of the same treatments as with acute bronchitis. The following may also help:
Quitting smoking: Smoking irritates the airways. Quitting smoking does not cure chronic bronchitis but may decrease the severity of symptoms and prevent progression of the disease.
Inhaled steroids: Over time, chronic bronchitis may lead to changes in the lungs, including inflammation. Inhaled steroids reduce inflammation, which can improve breathing.
Oxygen therapy: Some people with chronic bronchitis may have decreased oxygen levels due to lung damage. Oxygen therapy may improve shortness of breath and exercise tolerance.
Pulmonary rehabilitation classes: Pulmonary rehabilitation classes teach techniques to manage lung diseases, such as chronic bronchitis. For example, teaching a controlled coughing technique helps make coughing more effective. Classes combine education with exercise to improve functioning.
How long bronchitis lasts depends on whether the condition is chronic or acute. Acute bronchitis usually lasts 3 to 10 days, although the cough may linger for a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis lasts for months, and symptoms reoccur.
Treatment for bronchitis also varies depending on whether it is acute or chronic. Most people recover from acute bronchitis without complications. Treatment for chronic bronchitis helps reduce symptoms.