Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to your lungs. It causes a cough that often brings up mucus, as well as shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. There are two main types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.
The same viruses that cause colds and the flu often cause acute bronchitis. These viruses spread through the air when people cough, or through physical contact (for example, on unwashed hands). Being exposed to tobacco smoke, air pollution, dusts, vapors, and fumes can also cause acute bronchitis. Bacteria can also cause acute bronchitis, but not as often as viruses.
Most cases of acute bronchitis get better within several days, but your cough can last for several weeks after the infection is gone. If you think you have acute bronchitis, see your healthcare provider.
Treatments include rest, fluids, and aspirin (for adults) or acetaminophen to treat fever. A humidifier or steam may also help. You may need inhaled medicine to open your airways if you are wheezing. You probably do not need antibiotics. They don’t work against viruses — the most common cause of acute bronchitis. If your healthcare provider thinks you have a bacterial infection, he or she may prescribe antibiotics.