7 things you should know about bronchitis

Lung Health

by Alexandra Bond, MD

Jul 16, 2019

From coughing and a sore throat, to fever, to sinus and nasal congestion, and even wheezing, respiratory symptoms can leave you feeling miserable. Potential causes include allergies, sinus infection, throat infection and pneumonia, but one of the most common causes is acute bronchitis. (The word “acute” means the symptoms came on suddenly rather than being present for a long time.)

If you’re worried you might have a case of bronchitis, here are a few things you should know.

Antibiotics are not always the answer.

Bronchitis occurs when parts of your airways are inflamed due to infection. Often times, bronchitis follows the common cold. The majority of cases of bronchitis are caused by a viral infection (similar to the common cold and flu). This is important to distinguish from bacterial infection because it means that antibiotics will not alleviate your symptoms. Bronchitis is a very common reason for potentially dangerous antibiotic overuse. Using antibiotics for a viral infection contributes to unnecessary side effects and antibiotic resistance, meaning germs become harder for your body to kill.

The color of your mucus doesn’t matter.

Contrary to what you may have heard, the color of the sputum (mucus) does not tell us the type or severity of infection you have.

Bronchitis is more common during colder months.

Bronchitis is especially common in the fall and winter. Typical symptoms include cough with or without mucus for five or more days, congestion, sore throat and mild wheezing.

It usually goes away on its own.

The good news is there are medications and remedies that can help you feel better. For example, taking cough drops or syrup, drinking lots of water and using honey can all help alleviate your symptoms. Unfortunately, the infection can last up to three weeks but bronchitis usually goes away on its own.

Yes, bronchitis is contagious.

You can help prevent the spread of bronchitis by washing your hands regularly and covering your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Smoking can worsen your symptoms.

If you smoke, please talk with your provider about ways to quit. Smoking can worsen your symptoms and prolong your recovery time.

Bronchitis can lead to a more serious infection.

If you develop fever (temperature greater than 100.4 degrees), difficulty breathing, chest pains or any other new symptoms, it’s very important to be evaluated by a physician. These may indicate a more severe infection. If you have a chronic lung disease such as COPD, emphysema or asthma, you may need other treatment in addition to over-the-counter medications.

Questions about bronchitis? Find a doctor near you.

About the Author

Alexandra Bond, MD, is a family medicine physician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Round Rock. Get to know Dr. Bond today.

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