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What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis, or chest cold, is a condition that occurs when the bronchial tubes in the lungs become inflamed. The bronchial tubes swell and produce mucus, which causes a person to cough.

This often occurs after an upper respiratory infection like a cold. Most symptoms of acute bronchitis (chest pain, shortness of breath, etc.) last for up to 2 weeks, but the cough can last for up to 8 weeks in some people.

Acute bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi—the air passages or tubes to the lungs—and often develops from the flu. Symptoms include:

  • A fever, 100 to 102 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • An irritating, dry, painful cough that starts to produce small amounts of white or light yellow sputum after two or three days. At this stage the fever often recedes and the pain from coughing diminishes. If your sputum is yellow-green or green in color, you may have a bacterial infection.
  • Even after the condition improves, a slight cough commonly remains for another week or two. Most cases of acute bronchitis simply represent continued inflammation from viral infection rather than a bacterial complication. Many people benefit from short-term use of an inhaled bronchodilator such as albuterol (Accuneb, Proventil, Ventolin or ProAir).
  • If you have a cough for three weeks or more, you should be carefully evaluated by your healthcare provider to rule out pneumonia or bacterial bronchitis. If you are producing green secretions when you cough, you may have a bacterial infection and need antibiotics.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.