Benjamin Wedro, MD, FACEP, FAAEM
Dr. Ben Wedro practices emergency medicine at Gundersen Clinic, a regional trauma center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. His background includes undergraduate and medical studies at the University of Alberta, a Family Practice internship at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario and residency training in Emergency Medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.
Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.
In this Article
- Acute bronchitis facts
- What is acute bronchitis?
- What causes acute bronchitis?
- What are the risk factors for acute bronchitis?
- What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?
- When does a cold become acute bronchitis?
- How is acute bronchitis diagnosed?
- When should I call my doctor about my cough?
- What are the treatments for acute bronchitis?
- What are acute bronchitis home remedies?
- What are the complications of acute bronchitis?
- Bronchitis - Slideshow
- Finding Relief for Your Cough Slideshow
- Take the Bronchitis Quiz
- Bronchitis FAQs
- Find a local Pulmonologist in your town
When should I call my doctor about my cough?
While a cough can be irritating and interfere with activities such as sleep, by itself, it needs little care. Drinking plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration, humidifying the air, and occasionally medication to suppress the cough are appropriate home care treatments.
However, medical care should be accessed immediately should shortness of breath occur. Fever, chills, wheezing, and signs of dehydration (lightheadedness, weakness, rapid heart rate) are also reasons to seek medical care. Most coughs tend to subside after a few days. If the cough persists and mucus tends to be discolored, one should seek medical care.
In patients with asthma, wheezing may increase with acute bronchitis. Use of a prescribed albuterol inhaler (Ventolin HFA, Proventil HFA, ProAir) is reasonable; however, asthma patients should contact their health care practitioner if the symptoms of wheezing and shortness of breath do not resolve promptly.
What are the treatments for acute bronchitis?
Decreasing inflammation is the goal for treating acute bronchitis.
Albuterol inhalation, either with a hand held device (meter dosed inhaler, MDI) or nebulizer will help dilate the bronchial tubes.
Short-term steroid therapy will help minimize inflammation within the bronchial tubes. Prednisone is a common prescription medication that enhances the anti-inflammatory effects of the steroids produced within the body by the adrenal glands. Topical inhaled steroids may also be of benefit with fewer potential side effects.
It is important to keep the patient comfortable by treating fever with acetaminophen or ibuprofen. Drinking plenty of fluid will keep the patient well hydrated and hydration keeps secretions into the bronchial tubes more liquid and easier to expel.
Antibiotics are not necessarily indicated for the treatment of acute bronchitis. Occasionally they may be prescribed should a bacterial infection be present in addition to the usual virus that causes acute bronchitis. However, most acute bronchitis is caused by viruses and no antibiotics are needed.
Although good hydration will help remove secretions into the bronchi, other treatments (for example, Mucinex, Robitussin and others that contain guaifenesin) can help clear secretions though this is often a highly variable finding.
Cough is a very violent action that results in dynamic collapse of the airways. This collapse results in the walls of the airways banging against one another. This action of cough can cause further inflammation and help perpetuate the problem by sustaining and increasing inflammation. Cough suppression with cough drops or other liquid suppressants (for example, Vicks 44, Halls, and cough syrups that contain dextromethorphan) help to break this vicious cycle. In addition, if the person smokes, they should stop. If the acute bronchitis is being caused by inhaled smoke or chemicals, the patient should be removed from these irritant sources.
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