In short, acute bronchitis is simply an upper respiratory infection with a cough. In even simpler terms it’s what most people consider a cold plus a cough. That’s it! Others may call it a chest cold.
Symptoms usually start with runny nose, nasal congestion, sore throat, head stuffiness. Then the cough typically starts shortly after. The cough can be dry, wet sounding or even produce sputum. The sputum can have a variety of colors such as yellow, green, clear, foamy or sometimes small amounts of blood can be present from the general irritation and inflammation that is associated in the lungs.
Causes of acute bronchitis is caused by a virus in about 95% of cases in otherwise healthy adults. More rarely it is caused by a bacteria that would need antibiotics. The American Board of Internal Medicine in their choosing wisely initiative actually strongly encourages providers not to prescribe antibiotics with typical bronchitis due to the harms and side effects of antibiotics.
Acute bronchitis is very contagious and can spread in a variety of ways. By airborne respiratory droplets (coughs or sneezes). By saliva (kissing or shared drinks). By skin-to-skin contact (handshakes or hugs). By touching a contaminated surface (toy or doorknob).
The infection usually affects someone for about 10-14 days but cough can linger for about a month.
Symptoms that should raise concern for bacterial causes of bronchitis are fever, cough that does not start improving after 10 days or lasts longer than a month, pain in chest with deep breaths, shortness of breath. These symptoms may indicate you need antibiotics.
Other symptoms that are concerning are those that point towards a diagnosis of whooping cough. This is becoming more rare due to vaccines and updating adults on their vaccine when they have children. Signs of whooping cough would be severe fits of rapid coughing that may end with a “whoop” sound.
In summary, acute bronchitis is a chest cold and is usually a self limited viral infection in otherwise healthy adults. If you have further questions about your symptoms, you can request a virtual consult through the link below to speak to a doctor.