Coughs from different illnesses have specific sounds that can help make a diagnosis. Learn about the sounds of a bronchitis cough.

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When a healthcare professional works to diagnose a respiratory illness, one of the first steps they might take is to use a stethoscope to listen to your lung sounds and ask you to cough.

A cough is a powerful diagnostic tool that can offer clues about the cause of a particular infection. Respiratory illnesses produce different coughs. A cough sound from bronchitis can vary, depending on whether your bronchitis is acute, chronic, or bacterial.

This article explores the types of coughs you could expect due to different types of bronchitis and how doctors treat them.

Learn more about bronchitis.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of your lower respiratory tract or bronchi. Acute viral or bacterial infections or chronic medical conditions can cause bronchitis.

Cough sounds can often help diagnose respiratory infections. For example, a whooping cough is common in pertussis, and asthma produces a wheezing cough. A dry but productive cough is common when you have bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis is one of the most common respiratory infections, and a virus usually causes it. Bacterial infections can also cause acute bronchitis, but those infections are much less common.

An acute bronchitis cough usually begins as a dry cough but can progress to a wetter-sounding productive cough. A productive cough means you bring up mucus or phlegm with each cough. During the infection, this mucus varies in color, from white to yellow or even green.

Chronic bronchitis lasts 3 months or more. Experts usually categorize it as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). A cough from chronic bronchitis can sound dry but still produce mucus.

The cough you develop from bronchitis can have different meanings throughout the infection.

During periods of severe inflammation, your airways narrow, and this can produce a wheezing or high pitched sound in your cough or lungs. Rhonchi, or a deep rattling sound similar to a snore, indicates fluid or mucus accumulation in your airways.

When to contact a doctor for a cough

A cough can be painful, loud, and uncomfortable, but you may want to consider contacting a doctor when you develop symptoms like:

  • shortness of breath
  • a cough that lasts for 8 weeks or longer
  • a high fever
  • a loud wheezing sound when you breathe
  • blood appearing in mucus you cough up

If you have difficulty breathing to the point that you can’t speak a full sentence comfortably, get immediate medical care at the emergency department or by calling 911.

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Many cases of bronchitis occur due to common respiratory viruses like influenza. Currently, no medication can cure viral infections, but your healthcare professional can guide you on treatments to ease your symptoms as your body clears out its infection.

A doctor may prescribe antibiotics if your bronchitis occurs from a bacterial infection, but this is a less common type of bronchitis.

When you develop complications from bronchitis or have chronic bronchitis, your healthcare professional may prescribe you additional medications to help:

  • clear your airways
  • ease coughing
  • relieve shortness of breath
  • expand your lungs

The medications a doctor may prescribe can include:

  • cough suppressants
  • expectorants to help move mucus out of your lungs
  • steroids to help reduce inflammation and open your airways

Chronic bronchitis from COPD may also require the use of treatments like:

  • pulmonary rehabilitation
  • inhaled medications
  • supplemental oxygen

You can also use home remedies to help ease your cough and soothe other symptoms. Some examples of helpful treatments might include:

  • drinking hot tea with honey
  • using a humidifier to add moisture to the air you breathe
  • taking throat lozenges or over-the-counter (OTC) cold medications

Be careful when taking OTC cold medications. Taking cough suppressants in moderation is important since bronchitis can ultimately clear up better the faster you can cough out the mucus collecting in your bronchial tubes.

Too much suppression of your natural cough could prolong your illness. Also, discuss taking OTC cold medications with your healthcare professional if you have other chronic medical conditions such as heart disease.

It’s common for various viral coughs to last a few weeks. Many people with acute bronchitis recover in a few days to several weeks.

People with other medical conditions or a weakened immune system could develop other complications as bronchitis clears, such as pneumonia or a secondary bacterial infection. Talk with your healthcare professional if you don’t feel better after about 8 weeks or if your cough improves and then worsens again.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is usually a lifelong condition. It may affect your overall quality of life, depending on:

  • your bronchitis severity
  • how bronchitis affects the airflow through your lungs
  • the steps you take to prevent it from worsening

But the following may help slow chronic bronchitis progression or reduce flare-ups:

  • quitting or reducing smoking, if you smoke
  • avoiding infections
  • reducing exposure to air pollution

Lung sounds can also help doctors make a diagnosis. Bronchial lung sounds are typically at a higher frequency in tone, but with certain infections, other sounds called adventitious lung sounds can appear.

Bronchitis breath sounds are typically loud, hollow, and high pitched. There may also be a wheezing sound, which is a high pitched sound like a whistle. This can mean that your airways are too narrow for the usual amount of air to pass through.

Your doctor may also hear a deep rattling or coarse sound called rhonchi with COPD and chronic bronchitis.

Can bronchitis be cured?

Bronchitis usually results from a virus and can clear out with or without treatment. You can take OTC medications — and sometimes even prescription treatments — to help ease your cough, but time can often be the most effective cure for a cough from acute viral bronchitis.

Can I have bronchitis without a cough?

It’s possible to have varying degrees of a cough from bronchitis, and you might not always cough up mucus. Still, a cough is a common symptom of bronchitis, and less coughing may mean you’re taking too many cough suppressants.

It’s important to allow yourself to cough out the mucus collecting in your bronchial tubes, which can help you recover from acute bronchitis.

Will a cough be my only symptom?

Bronchitis often appears with a cough, but other symptoms of respiratory infections can also develop. These can include:

  • fever
  • pain with breathing
  • nasal congestion
  • headache

Bronchitis is a condition that develops from a viral or bacterial infection or an ongoing respiratory condition like COPD. A dry-sounding but productive cough from acute bronchitis is common and usually lasts a few weeks.

Your bronchitis cough could last longer from chronic bronchitis. Contact your healthcare professional for additional diagnosis and treatment if your cough becomes so severe you can’t breathe or it lasts for more than 2 months.