Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

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Acute bronchitis is a chest cold that affects the airways of the lungs called the bronchi. When the bronchi are inflamed because of an infection or environmental irritants, they swell and make mucus. This causes you to cough and have other symptoms.

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Frequent Symptoms

A cough with or without mucus is the most common symptom of acute bronchitis. Coughing can last several weeks, with some people experiencing the symptom for up to eight weeks. 

When you get a cough, you may:  

  • Not have mucus right away
  • Later see yellow or green mucus come up when coughing  
  • Have pain in the chest when coughing or breathing deeply
  • Have wheezing or noisy breathing 
  • Have a sore throat 

Other common symptoms of acute bronchitis are similar to those of a cold or the flu. Usually, these symptoms last only for a few days or up to a week. They include:

  • Low fever (100 degrees Fahrenheit to 101 degrees Fahrenheit)
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Fatigue
  • Sore muscles
  • Chills
  • Back pain 
  • Headache

Sore Muscles and Acute Bronchitis

Sometimes coughing can cause the symptom of sore muscles. You may notice the pain more in the chest, back, and stomach areas. This happens because you are using the muscles when you cough and are straining them. 

Rare Symptoms

Rare symptoms of acute bronchitis include: 

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Complications

If you have lung problems—such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—you are more likely to have complications from acute bronchitis and for it to turn into chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis can make your lung condition worse. For example, it can cause serious wheezing for someone who has asthma.

Possible complications from acute bronchitis include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Bleeding in the bronchi 

You have a higher risk of developing pneumonia from acute bronchitis if you:

  • Are younger than 2 years old or older than 65
  • Take medications that suppress your immune system
  • Have lung problems such as COPD
  • Have chronic health conditions such as heart, kidney, or liver disease
  • Have problems swallowing 
  • Are receiving cancer treatment 
  • Smoke 
  • Drink alcohol in excess 
  • Have limited mobility 

Although acute bronchitis is more common in children, especially those less than 5 years old, it can affect all age groups. This is why it is important to pay attention to symptoms and seek medical care if you do not get better. 

When to See a Doctor

In general, the symptoms of acute bronchitis should go away within two to three weeks. Usually, the illness goes away on its own. However, complications are possible.

You may need to see a doctor if your:

  • Symptoms get worse or do not go away
  • Cough lasts longer than two to three weeks 
  • Fever is higher than 101 degrees Fahrenheit and does not go away after three days 
  • Body weight decreases without dieting
  • Sleep is disturbed for many days because of the coughing 

You should also see a doctor if you have frequent episodes of acute bronchitis. This may indicate that it has turned into a chronic condition, and you may need additional treatment. It can also be a sign that you have COPD or another lung condition. 

You should go to the hospital and seek immediate care if you:

  • Cough up blood
  • Have serious problems breathing
  • Have severe chest pain 
  • Pass out 
  • Have blue nails or lips 

A Word From Verywell

It is possible for the symptoms of acute bronchitis to mimic other lung diseases in some cases. This is why it is important to talk to your doctor and discuss all the symptoms you are experiencing. You should not feel embarrassed about any of your symptoms because doctors are used to treating them. 

Most acute bronchitis cases can be treated at home and do not require hospitalization. You may be able to treat this condition with over-the-counter medications and home remedies. In general, the prognosis is good, with most people responding well to treatment and recovering without complications. However, in rare cases, complications from bronchitis are possible. 

You may be wondering if your symptoms indicate a COVID-19 infection or bronchitis. Ask your doctor to order a test for COVID-19 and pay attention to your symptoms. In addition to a new cough, if you notice a loss of taste or smell and a high temperature, then tell your doctor. 

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Article Sources
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  1. MedlinePlus. Acute bronchitis. Updated December 10, 2020.

  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Acute bronchitis.

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Chest cold (acute bronchitis). Updated August 30, 2019.