man coughing from acute bronchitis

An illness that starts out as a cold, flu, or other respiratory infection may develop into a cough that hangs on for weeks.  Other symptoms may resolve or improve within a week or ten days, but the nagging cough doesn’t go away.  When is it time to see the doctor?

Make an appointment to visit your doctor if you have the following symptoms.

  • A cough that lasts more than three weeks
  • Cough accompanied by a fever higher than 100.4 F
  • Thick mucus (may be clear or colored)
  • Wheezing or shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort
  • Fatigue or difficulty sleeping

These symptoms may indicate acute bronchitis, which is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes.  Bronchitis is caused by viruses, the same types that cause colds and flu.  Bronchitis may be contagious, spreading from person to person through droplets produced when sneezing and coughing.  However, bronchitis that is a complication of another medical condition, such as asthma, is usually not contagious.  Bronchitis is common and usually not a cause for great concern.  A few people, though, may develop pneumonia.

Some factors that can increase the risk of developing bronchitis include exposure to cigarette smoke, gastric reflux, and having a compromised immune system.  Frequent hand washing can lower your odds of catching and spreading all respiratory infections.  Getting an annual flu shot helps minimize the risk for developing bronchitis as a secondary infection following a bout with the flu.

Treatment for bronchitis does not usually call for the use of antibiotics, which are not effective in fighting viruses.  The doctor may recommend a cough suppressant, pain relievers, drinking lots of fluids to thin mucus secretions, and getting plenty of rest.  A bronchodilator, or inhaled medication, can help open up airways.  A humidifier may also help to loosen up mucus.  Most people with acute bronchitis generally recover within a few weeks.