Dear Doctor: My child was recently diagnosed with acute bronchitis. What is acute bronchitis?
Bronchitis is irritation and inflammation in the tubes that carry air to your lungs. Bronchitis may occur suddenly (acute) or be present over a long period of time (chronic).
Acute (sudden) bronchitis commonly occurs during cold weather or after an illness of the respiratory tract. Chronic (longstanding) bronchitis usually occurs after longstanding irritation in the tubes (bronchi) that bring air into your lungs.
Tobacco smoke and air pollution are common causes of chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is a type of a disease spectrum termed “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD).
Signs and symptoms of bronchitis
- Persistent Cough
- Yellow/green mucus when coughing
- Extreme tiredness
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Long-lasting coughing is a hallmark of both acute and chronic bronchitis. In the case of acute bronchitis, the cough may last for several weeks.
First, your doctor will make sure the bronchitis is not really a different disease, like pneumonia, which may require a completely different treatment approach.
Acute bronchitis normally gets better on its own in 10-14 days. The treatment approach is mainly supportive. Sometimes a doctor may provide a prescription for an inhaler if breathing is difficult. If the cough is disruptive, a cough suppressant may be ordered to help with both work performance and sleep.
Most cases of acute bronchitis that result from infections are a result of a viral infection. In these cases, antibiotics are of very little help. If a bacterial cause of acute bronchitis is determined, then an antibiotic may be prescribed.
In the case of chronic bronchitis, there are different treatment measures including wearing a mask during cold weather, discontinuation of the offending factors like tobacco smoke, breathing exercise routines, and the use of a humidifier. I will discuss the treatment of chronic bronchitis in more detail in a future article that discusses “chronic obstructive pulmonary disease” (COPD).
As always, if you have a health concern check with your doctor.
Charles E. Crutchfield III, MD is a board-certified dermatologist and Clinical Professor of Dermatology at the University of Minnesota Medical School. He also has a private practice in Eagan, MN. He has been selected as one of the top 10 dermatologists in the U.S. by Black Enterprise magazine and one of the top 21 African American physicians in the U.S. by the Atlanta Post. Dr. Crutchfield is an active member of the Minnesota Association of Black Physicians, MABP.org.