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Acute Bronchitis Treatments

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Updated May 27, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Acute bronchitis is a common illness that affects millions of people every year. It is characterized by frequent coughing and can last for many weeks. There are many different causes of bronchitis and treatment really depends on what causes it. Acute bronchitis may also be referred to as a "chest cold."

The most common treatments for acute bronchitis include:

  • Rest and symptom treatment (when the cause is due to a virus)
  • Antibiotics (when the cause is bacteria)

Treating the Symptoms

Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, which means they shouldn't be treated with antibiotics. Viral infections are unaffected by antibiotics, so taking them will not help you get better any faster and it can lead to other problems, such as antibiotic resistance.

When you are diagnosed with acute bronchitis and your health care provider believes it is caused by a virus, you should not be given an antibiotic. Instead, treatement will most likely include rest, fluids and symptom treatment.

Rest
Acute bronchitis will make you very tired. This is due to both the infection and the persistent cough. It is important to rest as much as possible when you are sick. Although it may be difficult to sleep well when you have a cough, try not to exert yourself any more than is absolutely necessary so your body has adequate time to recover.

Fluids
Drinking clear liquids when you have any type of respiratory infection is important because they keep you hydrated and help thin the mucous in your chest and throat.

Symptom Treatment
When you have acute bronchitis, you may not be able to take antibiotics to treat your infection, but there are many other medications that may help you feel better. Although these medications will not cure the infection, they can relieve some of your symptoms.

Examples of medications that you may be able to take to treat your acute bronchitis symptoms include:

  • Inhalers - If you are wheezing or experience tightness in your chest, your health care provider may prescribe an inhaler to help relieve some of the swelling in your airways and help you breathe more easily. Inhalers are available by prescription only, so your health care provider will decide if you need one and prescribe the one that is most appropriate for your symptoms.
  • Decongestants - One type of over-the-counter medication that may help when you have acute bronchitis is a decongestant. These medications loosen the mucous that may be in your sinuses and helps it drain, making it easier for you to breathe.
  • Pain relievers - Pain relievers and fever reducers such as aspirin (for adults only), acetaminophen and ibuprofen can help relieve the pain you may experience when you have acute bronchitis. They can also help bring down your fever if you have one.
  • Cough medications - Cough suppressants or expectorants may be helpful if your cough is dry or unproductive. If you are unable to sleep due to a persistent cough, talk to your health care provider about using a cough suppressant. These medications are not recommended for use in children under age 12.
  • Humidifiers - Using a humidifier is a great way to relieve discomfort when you have acute bronchitis. Humidifiers add moisture to the air, making it easier to breathe, loosening mucous and can even relieve some of the pain from breathing the dry air.

Antibiotic Treatment

If your health care provider believes that your bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, he may prescribe antibiotics. If you do need to take antibiotics, be sure to take all of your medication, do not stop just because you are feeling better.

When to See a Doctor

If you have symptoms of bronchitis, there are a few symptoms that should raise a red flag and signal you to seek medical attention. These signs include:

  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Fever over 100.4F
  • Cough with thick or bloody mucous (and a fever)
  • Symptoms for more than 3 weeks
  • Chronic heart or lung problems
  • Recurring bronchitis

This information is intended to educate you about the possible treatments for Acute Bronchitis. If you are looking for information on Chronic Bronchitis Treatments, learn more from About.com's Guide to COPD.

Sources:

"How is Bronchitis Treated?" Explore Bronchitis 01 May 09. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health. 08 May 11.

"Bronchitis (Chest Cold)." Get Smart: Know When Antibiotics Work 01 Sep 10. US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 08 Nov 11.

Bartlett MD, John G. "Patient Information: Acute Bronchitis in Adults." Up To Date 22 Aug 10. 08 Nov 11.

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