What is Acute Bronchitis? Do You Need Antibiotics?
Acute bronchitis is often caused by a virus. And when it is caused by a virus, antibiotics won’t help you feel better, because antibiotics kill bacteria, not viruses. Using antibiotics when they are not needed could cause more harm, including side effects and antibiotic resistance.
After a cold or flu, you might experience bouts of coughing. Or, perhaps you’ve developed a cough without first having a cold. Friends tell you that you have a “chest cold.”
You could have acute bronchitis, which happens when the airways in your lungs swell and produce mucus. And since acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help to treat a viral respiratory infection.
Although rare, bacteria might cause acute bronchitis. Even so, antibiotics are not always recommended. In addition to experiencing unintended side effects, such as diarrhea or rashes, taking antibiotics unnecessarily increases the risk of antibiotic-resistant infections and a potentially life-threatening diarrheal illness known as Clostridium difficile infection.
What are the symptoms of acute bronchitis?
You may experience many or only a few of the symptoms, which include:
- Cough with or without mucus production
- Chest soreness
- Mild headache
- Mild body aches
- Watery eyes
- Sore throat
When do you see a healthcare provider?
If you are healthy with no underlying heart or lung problems or a weakened immune system, you should feel better in less than three weeks.
Make an appointment with a healthcare provider if you or your child experience any of the following:
- Temperature of 100.4° F or higher
- Cough with bloody mucus
- Trouble breathing
- Symptoms that last longer than three weeks
- Repeated episodes of bronchitis
- Severe cough associated with a “whooping” sound, or vomiting after coughing.
What can you do to feel better?
The good news is that acute bronchitis usually clears up on its own. In most cases, you don’t need antibiotics.
To feel better:
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer.
- Run a hot shower and breathe deeply, or fill a bowl with steam, lean over, and breathe deeply.
- Use lozenges unless the patient is younger than 4 years old.
- Talk to your pharmacist about over-the-counter medications that can treat your symptoms.
If you have whooping cough, pertussis or pneumonia, your healthcare provider will likely prescribe antibiotics. Take them as directed.
How do you prevent acute bronchitis?
- Wash your hands often.
- Keep up to date with vaccines.
- Don’t smoke.
- Avoid secondhand smoke, chemicals, dust and air pollution.
- Cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, so you don’t infect others.