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Acute bronchitis
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Acute bronchitis

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Contributors: Abhijeet Waghray MD, Mary Anne Morgan MD, Paritosh Prasad MD
Other Resources UpToDate PubMed


Acute bronchitis is a common condition in clinical practice and is characterized by cough for at least 5 days. Symptoms result from swelling and inflammation of the lower respiratory tract and are most frequently related to a viral infection or upper respiratory tract infection. The cough may be nonproductive or productive with other symptoms including nasal congestion, chest wall tenderness, sore throat, wheezing, and rarely fever. Symptoms may persist up to 3 weeks. Incidence is highest in colder seasons. In about 1% of cases, acute bronchitis may be associated with Bordetella pertussis (whooping cough). Other infrequent bacterial causes are Chlamydophila pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Management is mainly supportive and may involve treating symptoms with over-the-counter humidifiers and cold medications. Since acute bronchitis is primarily caused by viral infection, antibiotics are generally unnecessary and ineffective. It is important that patients remain hydrated. Patients with other conditions, such as asthma, may require inhalers.

Related topic: Chronic bronchitis


J20.9 – Acute bronchitis, unspecified

10509002 – Acute bronchitis

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Diagnostic Pearls

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Differential Diagnosis & Pitfalls

  • Pneumonia (eg, viral, bacterial) – Lower respiratory tract infection, manifested by fever, abnormal vital signs, and evidence of consolidation or rales on physical exam.
  • Exacerbation of bronchiectasis
  • Exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
  • Exacerbation of asthma
  • Chronic bronchitis – Mucus production and cough for most days of the month, more than 3 months of year during 2 consecutive years.
  • Sinusitis
  • Postnasal drip syndrome – Often associated with allergies, secretions are often nasal in origin.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease – Cough and/or secretions without evidence of infection.
  • Upper respiratory infection ("head cold")

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Management Pearls

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Last Reviewed: 02/07/2018
Last Updated: 02/15/2018
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Acute bronchitis
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Acute bronchitis (Adult/Child) : Nasal congestion, Productive cough, Pharyngitis, Wheezing
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