Bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs, called the bronchi. The infection makes the bronchi irritated and inflamed, causing you to produce and cough up more mucus than normal.
There are two types of bronchitis:
The main symptom of acute bronchitis is a hacking cough that often brings up clear, yellow-grey or greenish mucus.
If you have bronchitis, you may also have other symptoms, including:
Antibiotics are not routinely prescribed for bronchitis because the condition is usually caused by a virus. Antibiotics only treat bacterial infections.
However, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have bronchitis. These circumstances include if you:
If your doctor prescribes antibiotics for bronchitis, they will most likely give you a five-day course of amoxicillin or doxycycline.
Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus that is spread through direct contact or coughing and sneezing. You can help to prevent spreading the infection by washing your hands often and using disposable tissues.
Bronchitis is most commonly caused by a virus, such as the common cold or the flu virus. The virus is spread through direct contact, touching surfaces that an infected person has touched or by coughing and sneezing.
Sometimes, bronchitis can be caused by certain bacteria.
Other causes of bronchitis include breathing in irritant substances, such as smog, chemicals (at home or work) or tobacco smoke (including inhaling second-hand smoke).
The exact amount of time bronchitis remains contagious is hard to know because it depends on the type of virus you have. However, you should assume that you can spread the infection to others if you still have symptoms.
Acute bronchitis usually gets better within a few weeks and without treatment.
You can help your recovery by:
There is little evidence that cough medicines are effective at treating bronchitis.
Chronic bronchitis is a type of long-term lung condition where, unlike acute bronchitis, your symptoms do not go away completely.
Chronic bronchitis cannot be cured, but you can help to improve your symptoms in various ways, including:
Bronchitis and pneumonia are both lung infections. However, bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs, while pneumonia is a deeper lung infection that affects the clusters of tiny air sacs found at the end of the airways of the lungs. These tiny sacs become inflamed and fill up with fluid.
Pneumonia is the most common complication of bronchitis.
Bronchitis is not usually life-threatening. Most cases resolve within three weeks. However, bronchitis can lead to complications, such as pneumonia, which can be fatal if left untreated.
See your doctor as soon as possible or go to hospital if:
Acute bronchitis usually lasts up to three weeks. Sometimes, bronchitis can last longer. The condition is called chronic bronchitis if you have a daily productive cough that lasts for at least three months of the year and for at least two years in a row.
Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.