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Bronchitis causes your airways (bronchi) to become irritated and inflamed, producing more mucus and a cough.

Bronchitis causes your airways (bronchi) to become irritated and inflamed, producing more mucus and a cough.
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Bronchitis is the inflammation of the larger airways in your lungs, which causes an ongoing cough.

Bronchitis can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or breathing in smoke or dust.

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, such as cold viruses or influenza virus and can last for weeks, whereas chronic bronchitis lasts for months and may come back each year.

Chronic bronchitis is usually related to smoking.

Most people with acute bronchitis will feel better with time and rest, with a number of treatments available to help ease the cough and other symptoms.

If you think you have bronchitis, your doctor can assess you and discuss treatment.

Bronchitis symptoms

Someone with bronchitis may have:

Check your symptoms with healthdirect’s Symptom Checker to get advice on when to seek medical attention.

Who is at risk of developing bronchitis?

People at risk include:

  • the elderly
  • people breathing in irritating chemicals
  • smokers
  • those with a lung condition, such as asthma
  • people with poor immunity

You can reduce your risk by hand washing, and if you smoke, cutting down or quitting. The annual flu vaccine is recommended for people with chronic bronchitis.

Is bronchitis contagious?

Mostly, bronchitis is caused by contagious viruses. These can be spread by air when someone coughs, or by touch after the virus is left on a surface.

Hand washing, covering your mouth when coughing and staying home while unwell can reduce the spread.

Do I need a chest X-ray?

An X-ray is usually not necessary. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners recommend that chest X-rays for bronchitis are best avoided for simple cases. For more information, speak to your doctor or visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.

Bronchitis treatment

Most people with acute bronchitis will feel better with time and rest.

You can help ease the cough and other symptoms by:

  • inhaling steam or having a warm bath
  • avoiding cigarette smoke and other irritants
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • simple pain relief medication, such as paracetamol (follow the directions on the label)
  • a teaspoon of honey at night, either by itself or in warm water

Cough medicines are available, but they might or might not help.

If you are very unwell or not getting better, or if you get worse, see your doctor.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2017

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