Duration

Bronchitis causes irritation and inflammation inside the bronchial tubes. It can be chronic or acute. The type of bronchitis you have determines how long it will last.

Acute bronchitis typically lasts between 10 to 14 days, though you may experience symptoms up to 3 weeks in some cases. It can be brought about as the result of another illness, such as a cold or the flu. It can also result from allergies.

Chronic bronchitis is a long-lasting form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Symptoms from chronic bronchitis last at least three months, and subsequent episodes of bronchitis can come and go for two or more years following your recovery from the initial episode.

Read on to learn more about bronchitis and what you can do to improve your recovery.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis can occur in people of any age, although it’s not common in infants. Acute bronchitis usually lasts from 10 to 14 days, but some symptoms may last longer. For example, you may have a lingering cough that lasts for a month or sometimes longer. This is true for both children and adults.

Older adults may experience more severe symptoms over a longer duration of time. These symptoms can include rapid breathing and confused thinking. Elderly individuals may also be at a higher risk for complications, such as pneumonia.

Chronic bronchitis is more common in adults than in children. People with chronic bronchitis can also experience bouts of acute bronchitis.

Symptoms of chronic bronchitis include long-term irritation and inflammation of the bronchial tubes, and a chronic, phlegmy cough that lasts for at least three months. This is followed by episodic bouts of bronchitis, which can come and go for two years or longer.

What causes bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. It’s most commonly caused by viruses, such as the influenza virus. It’s also possible to have bacterial and viral bronchitis at the same time.

Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if they suspect you have bacterial bronchitis. These medications may help reduce the amount of time you’re contagious, but may not lessen the duration of symptoms, such as a cough. Antibiotics are not helpful for bronchitis caused by viruses.

Chronic bronchitis is often caused by cigarette smoking. It can also be caused by exposure to environmental toxins, such as air pollution or secondhand smoke.

How long are you contagious?

Around 90 percent of all cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses, such as the cold or flu, which are contagious. These illnesses have an incubation period of between two to six days. People typically start to become contagious in the hours preceding the initial onset of symptoms and remain contagious until the symptoms go away. The persistent, dry cough that often follows bronchitis is caused by ongoing irritation of the bronchial tubes, not active infection. That means you’re unlikely to be contagious during this time.

Acute bronchitis that’s caused by bacterial infections is less contagious to otherwise healthy people, although you’re at greater risk of becoming infected if you have a compromised immune system, are a child, or are elderly. If you’re taking antibiotics for bacterial acute bronchitis, you’ll become less contagious or not contagious at all within 24 to 48 hours.

Chronic bronchitis is not usually contagious. Because you can have chronic and acute bronchitis at the same time, you may pass acute bronchitis to another person if you have both conditions.

Can you treat bronchitis at home?

There are several home remedies which may help alleviate symptoms and make you more comfortable while you’re recovering from bronchitis.

  • Get plenty of sleep and take time to slow down and let your body recover.
  • Drink plenty of fluids, including water, tea, and chicken soup.
  • Use a humidifier or steam to help break up mucus.
  • Take over-the-counter pain medication to reduce fever and alleviate discomfort.
  • Talk to your doctor about the type of cough medicine you should use, if any. Some cough medications suppress coughs and may make it harder for you to expel mucus. However, these can make it easier for you to sleep. Other cough medications are expectorants. These can be beneficial at helping you expel mucus, but may make it more difficult to sleep.
  • Certain herbal supplements, such as ginger or garlic, may help to alleviate irritation in the bronchial airways and promote healing.
  • Do not smoke cigarettes and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke and other airborne irritants.

When to seek help

Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own, but you should consult your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms:

  • frequent episodes of acute bronchitis (this may indicate the beginning of chronic bronchitis)
  • a wheezing cough or a cough that doesn’t go away within three to four weeks
  • shortness of breath
  • coughing that expels blood or bloody mucus
  • symptoms that do not improve or worsen

Since some cases of acute bronchitis are caused by the flu virus, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medications for you if the flu virus is suspected as a cause.

Bronchitis can lead to pneumonia and other complications, so it’s important to stay on top of your care and to seek medical support, if needed.

Outlook

The type of bronchitis you have will determine, in large part, the duration. Elderly individuals, children, and people with compromised immune systems may be more vulnerable to certain types of bronchitis, such as those caused by bacteria.

Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses and do not respond to antibiotics. Acute bronchitis usually goes away without medical intervention within several weeks. If you have symptoms which do not improve or worsen, see your doctor. That may be a sign of chronic bronchitis.