Acute bronchitis: symptoms, duration and treatment

Acute bronchitis is one of the most common respiratory diseases and is usually easy to treat. What you need to know about symptoms, duration and treatment.

It is particularly common in winter: acute bronchitis. In many cases, it occurs as part of a cold. You initially feel slight cold symptoms, which then become stronger and, above all, more stubborn.

Acute bronchitis can be annoying to dangerous. The lower airways, the so-called bronchi, become temporarily inflamed. The trachea is often affected as well. Most often, the disease is caused by cold viruses, such as influenza viruses, but in rare cases it can also be caused by bacteria, fungi or infections such as whooping cough and chickenpox. Here’s everything you need to know about the symptoms, duration and treatment of acute bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis: what are the typical symptoms?

The typical symptom of acute bronchitis is coughing. In the beginning it is usually a dry, irritable cough, later the inflamed mucous membranes of the bronchi produce a viscous secretion, which is then expelled with a mucous cough. The cough occurs mainly in the morning and evening, and many sufferers also wake up at night and have to cough heavily. Pain behind the breastbone can also occur.

Since acute bronchitis usually occurs as part of a cold, symptoms such as headaches and body aches, sore throat, hoarseness and runny nose are not uncommon, especially at the beginning of the disease. Fever also occurs.

Here is an overview of the possible symptoms:

  • Cough
  • headache and body aches
  • Sore throat
  • hoarseness
  • Sniffles
  • Fever

Acute bronchitis: How long does the disease usually last?

Normally, acute bronchitis, when it occurs in otherwise healthy people as part of a cold, is over after about two weeks. However, sometimes the cough can last longer, in some cases for weeks. If the cough lasts longer than six weeks, you should see a doctor.

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Acute bronchitis can also become chronic bronchitis. Doctors speak of this when a patient has a cough for more than three months at a time for two consecutive years. This chronic bronchitis is often aggravated by smoking and can develop into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Acute bronchitis: In rare cases, dangerous consequences

In rare cases, acute bronchitis can develop into pneumonia in people with a weakened immune system or a chronic disease of the heart or lungs. It is then no longer just the mucous membrane of the bronchi that is affected, but the entire lung tissue.

In people with a pre-existing condition such as COPD or bronchial asthma, an exacerbation can be triggered, which may have to be treated in hospital. Patients at risk should therefore make sure that they recover from acute bronchitis and, if in doubt, consult a doctor.

Acute bronchitis: what is the treatment for the disease?

Most of the time you don’t need to do anything with acute bronchitis as it heals on its own after about two weeks. In these two weeks you should rest, for example avoid sports. If you smoke, you should definitely stop smoking during the illness. Daily inhalation of saline can help, as can plenty of water and unsweetened teas.

Antitussive or expectorant medication can also be taken to combat the cough, but not both at the same time, as they have opposite effects. Antibiotics are only useful in the rare case of acute bronchitis caused by bacteria. Discuss the procedure with your doctor here.

If you want to avoid acute bronchitis in the first place, you should try to avoid catching a cold. This can be done, for example, by washing your hands regularly and coughing into the crook of your arm instead of your hand.

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