Bronchitis: Causes, Symptoms & When to go to the Doctor

February 22, 2018
Picture of a sick man coughing into his hand while sitting on a park bench.

Caused by inflammation of the lining within the bronchial tube, bronchitis can be a temporary condition or chronic ailment. This condition gets better without medical intervention for most patients, although it could lead to pneumonia in serious cases. Here’s what you should know about bronchitis symptoms, causes, and treatments.

What Causes Bronchitis?

Bronchitis refers to inflammation of the bronchi—the airways that deliver oxygen to the lungs. This condition often results from another respiratory infection, such as the common cold. It’s usually caused by a virus, although bacteria and airborne irritants like dust may sometimes be to blame.

Bronchitis Signs & Symptoms

When someone develops bronchitis, they will typically experience a persistent cough that may be accompanied by:

  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Chest tightness when inhaling or exhaling deeply
  • Sore throat
  • Muscle aches
  • Chills
  • Low-grade fever
  • Headache

Bronchitis can also produce a wet cough with mucus that may appear clear, green, yellowish-gray, white, or (on rare occasions) pink. In most cases, bronchitis symptoms will improve within 10 days, although some people continue to have a nagging cough that lasts for several weeks.

Acute Bronchitis vs. Chronic Bronchitis

There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic. The most common type, acute bronchitis is often caused by the same viruses responsible for colds, and it can usually resolve on its own in a few weeks. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that’s almost always caused by cigarette smoking. COPD can be managed with proper treatment, but it lasts a lifetime.

If your acute bronchitis is caused by an infection, you may also have cold symptoms, including headache, low-grade fever, chills, or body aches. With chronic bronchitis, a person experiences a productive cough for at least three months, with recurring issues happening at least two straight years. It’s also not uncommon for people with chronic bronchitis to get an acute infection on top of their existing issues.

When to See a Doctor for Bronchitis

While acute bronchitis isn’t usually serious, repeated bouts can be a sign of COPD. For this reason, you should visit a reputable medical provider like PhysicianOne Urgent Care if your cough:

  • Keeps you awake at night
  • Produces blood or disclosed mucus
  • Persists for longer than three weeks
  • Occurs with a fever higher than 100.4 F
  • Occurs with wheezing or shortness of breath

It’s also important to seek medical treatment if you have asthma or a preexisting health issue that might lead to complications, such cystic fibrosis.

You can reduce your chances of developing bronchitis by avoiding lung irritants like cigarette smoke and by getting vaccinated against the seasonal flu. You should also wash your hands frequently to avoid viruses that may cause you to get sick.

Bronchitis & Pneumonia

Both bronchitis and pneumonia are lung infections, but they affect different parts of the lungs. Bronchitis is usually a viral infection that occurs in the bronchi, while pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria and affects the alveoli—the small sacs located at the end of the bronchioles.

Pneumonia is also a possible complication of severe bronchitis. It can be difficult to tell the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia without the expertise of a medical professional, but pneumonia generally causes more severe symptoms and feels like a whole-body illness. Additionally, pneumonia may lead to nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Why You Should Go to PhysicianOne Urgent Care for Bronchitis Treatment

If you believe you may have bronchitis, consult the expert medical professionals at a PhysicianOne Urgent Care location near you. Our fully equipped locations throughout Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New York are open during extended hours 365 days per year and serve people of all ages. We welcome patients on a walk-in basis, offer optional appointment scheduling, and even provide a 24/7 telemedicine service that allows patients to consult with a medical professional any time of day or night. Connect with us today! We accept most health insurance plans and offer sensible self-pay rates.

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