Bronchitis is a condition affecting millions of people each year. According to the NIH, acute bronchitis episodes are a leading reason why adults see their doctors and why they miss an average of two to three days of work every year. Richard Samuel, MD, medical director for Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care, answers questions about this common condition.

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is inflammation of the airways in your lower respiratory tract. In general, people with bronchitis experience a persistent cough that gets worse when lying down. Acute bronchitis is a temporary condition that can be caused by viruses, bacteria or exposure to inhaled irritants such as tobacco smoke.

What are the signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis?

The primary symptom of acute bronchitis is a persistent cough. Other common symptoms include soreness in the chest and throat, fatigue and a low-grade fever. Like other lower respiratory tract infections, the symptoms usually develop suddenly and can last anywhere from 3 to 10 days. If you notice blood in your mucus, have trouble breathing or develop a temperature higher than 100 °F, see a physician.

 Is bronchitis contagious?

Yes, bronchitis is usually contagious. Those with bronchitis usually remain contagious for as long as they experience symptoms. Like the common cold, you can get it from contact with other people who are sick or by touching contaminated surfaces such as door handles and other common household items. To prevent the spread to others, frequently wash your hands with warm, soapy water, cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze and stay home if you’re sick.

Are certain people more likely to get bronchitis?

While anyone can get bronchitis, certain groups of people are more susceptible. Those at higher risk of developing bronchitis are:

  • Current smokers
  • Seniors
  • Young children
  • People with weakened immune systems from conditions like cancer or diabetes
  • People with respiratory viruses, such as the flu or the common cold
  • People who have not been immunized for the flu, pneumonia and whooping cough

How can I treat bronchitis?

Fortunately, acute bronchitis usually gets better on its own without the help of antibiotics. Drinking plenty of water, getting enough rest and taking over-the-counter medications can help loosen chest congestion. Also, soothing remedies such as, hot soup, herbal teas, throat lozenges and humidifiers can help ease your cough and help your breathing. If your symptoms persist for longer than three weeks, see a primary or urgent care physician.

For all your minor illnesses and injuries, Adventist HealthCare Urgent Care can help. Walk in or make an online reservation at any of our convenient locations.