How Serious Is Bronchitis?

February 1, 2024

Is Bronchitis Serious?

Bronchitis is a quite common respiratory illness affecting millions of people in the U.S. every year and is often what we consider to be a ‘chest cold’. It’s important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bronchitis so you can help limit its spread to others and be sure to get enough rest so you can heal.

What Is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchi, or bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs. People affected by bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which may be discolored. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis is a short-term inflammation of the bronchi and is commonly caused by an infection that is contagious and easily transmissible to others. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a long-term inflammation of the surface of the bronchial lining often caused by smoking and which may be further irritated by other environmental irritants, such as gases or dust.

Common Bronchitis Symptoms

  • Cough
  • Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray, or green in color—rarely, it may be streaked with blood
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever and chills
  • Chest discomfort

What Is a Serious Case of Bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is more serious than acute bronchitis.

Most people get over a bout of acute bronchitis in two to three weeks with the help of home remedies, however the cough can sometimes hang on for four or more weeks. Over-the-counter cough remedies and rest are helpful. Antibiotics are usually not needed as acute bronchitis is caused by a virus rather than bacteria. If you are in otherwise good health, your lungs should return to normal after you have recovered from the initial infection.

Home Remedies for Bronchitis

  • Drink fluids every one to two hours unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake.
  • Rest.
  • Do not smoke and stay away from all kinds of smoke.
  • Relieve body aches by taking aspirin or acetaminophen.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on ways to help you clear your mucus.
  • Use a humidifier.

Unlike acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition that develops over time and is included under the umbrella term COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Symptoms may increase or decrease, but they will never completely go away. Periods of inflammation can last for several months causing sticky mucus to build up in the airways, leading to coughing long-term breathing difficulties such as shortness of breath. Diagnosing chronic bronchitis takes time as your doctor observes symptoms over a couple of years. Tests may include pulmonary function tests, chest X-rays, or CT scans.

Bronchitis symptoms, no matter the type, can be frustrating and exhausting. While your doctor can’t cure bronchitis, you may need their help to better manage the symptoms and make sure that you are not dealing with something more serious such as pneumonia or another serious respiratory illness.

When to See a Doctor

  • Fever over 100.4°F
  • A cough that lasts more than three weeks
  • Cough keeps you from sleeping
  • Continued wheezing or shortness of breath that interrupts your activities
  • Cough is accompanied by the expelling of discolored or bloody mucus from the mouth or nose

Whether it is bronchitis or another type of respiratory illness, our AFC Urgent Care Chattanooga team can provide the treatment you need to help you feel better. Do not hesitate to stop by today.

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