Bronchitis Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

The most common symptoms of bronchitis are:

  • Runny, stuffy nose
  • Low-grade fever
  • Chest congestion
  • Wheezing or a whistling sound while breathing
  • A cough that may produce yellow or green mucus (sputum)
  • Feeling run-down or tired

How Is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

During the first few days of illness, bronchitis symptoms are similar to that of a common cold. Healthcare providers diagnose bronchitis by asking patients questions about symptoms and doing a physical examination. Though they rarely order additional tests, if you have a fever, your physician may order a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia.

Preventing Bronchitis

Avoiding lung irritants, including smoking, is important for preventing bronchitis. To help protect your lungs, wear a mask over your mouth and nose when using lung irritants such as paint, paint remover or varnish. Wash your hands often, and receive a flu shot every year. Ask your doctor if you should get a pneumonia shot, especially if you're 65 or older.

How Is Bronchitis Treated?

Most cases of bronchitis go away on their own. The infection simply has to run its course over several weeks. Treatment options your doctor may suggest are:

  • Resting and getting plenty of fluids
  • Drinking lots of water, which helps loosen chest congestion
  • A cough suppressant and/or pain reliever
  • A humidifier or steam

Antibiotics are not effective for treating viral infections, but if your doctor suspects that you have a bacterial infection, they may prescribe one.

When to See Your Doctor

On average, the symptoms of acute bronchitis last only a couple of weeks. However, if you have a cough that won't go away, or if you get sick with bronchitis frequently, it may be the sign of a more serious disease and you should visit your doctor. Here are some questions to ask your doctor about bronchitis.

Reviewed and approved by the American Lung Association Scientific and Medical Editorial Review Panel.

Page last updated: September 29, 2023

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