Diseases & Conditions

What to Expect With Bronchitis: How Long Does It Last?

Bronchitis is definitely something that those afflicted want to see pass as soon as possible. Because bronchitis can be a severe development resulting from a respiratory infection or cold, it’s vital that it’s monitored closely and dealt with appropriately. Understanding what to expect with bronchitis and how to handle this condition when it occurs can make it much easier to get through. Specifically, being familiar with how long various symptoms can last and the general life span of a bronchial infection can prove very helpful.

In this article, we’ll explore the basics of what bronchitis is, what the general symptoms are, and the average duration of this respiratory illness.

What Is Bronchitis?

When the lining surrounding your bronchial tubes becomes inflamed and results in an overproduction of mucus, it’s known as bronchitis. Bronchitis is a relatively common respiratory condition, but it can become more severe at times. When bronchitis occurs, it typically falls into two different categories:

  • Acute Bronchitis – Acute bronchitis is the most common form of this respiratory illness. Usually, this form of bronchitis results from a virus or chest cold. Smoking tends to exacerbate the occurrence of bronchitis.
  • Chronic Bronchitis – Chronic bronchitis can result from smoking, illness, allergies, or other conditions. For bronchitis to be considered chronic, it needs to occur two years in a row for at least three months out of each year.

What Causes Bronchitis to Occur?

Bronchitis, whether acute or chronic, can be caused by several different factors, such as:

  • Viruses, such as the common cold or the flu
  • Smoking
  • Secondhand smoke
  • Poor air quality or pollution
  • Allergies
  • Toxic gas

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?

Bronchitis can have relatively severe symptoms that should be monitored closely to ensure they don’t worsen or cause potential complications. Here’s a look at common bronchitis symptoms:

  • Chest aches or discomfort
  • Fatigue
  • Persistent cough
  • Overproduction of white, yellow, green, or clear mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Body aches

How Long Does Bronchitis Last?

The length of time bronchitis lasts is dependent on the type that it is. For acute bronchitis, you can expect symptoms to last between 10-14 days. However, the cough can linger for up to three weeks at times.

For those experiencing a bout of chronic bronchitis, symptoms are generally expected to last about three months. Recurring episodes of symptoms following an initial infection can occur over the next two years.

How to Treat Bronchitis and When to Call a Physician

Often, bronchitis can be treated via home remedies and will go away on its own after the cold or virus has receded. If you’re treating bronchitis at home, here are some common remedies you may consider trying:

  • Humidifier – Use steam or humidifier treatments to loosen mucus.
  • Liquids – Drink thin soups and clear fluids to loosen mucus.
  • Rest – Get plenty of rest to replenish your body’s energy to fight off the infection.
  • Honey – Use honey to suppress coughs and soothe your sore throat.
  • Salt Water – Gargle with salt water to clear mucus and soothe your sore throat.
  • Pain Medicine – Use analgesics, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen, to help with pain and reduce fever.
  • Tea – Try drinking hot herbal tea to soothe your sore throat and provide comfort during recovery.
  • Cough Drops – Cough drops can be used to suppress coughs and soothe sore throats.
  • Expectorants – Over the counter (OTC) expectorants can help thin and loosen mucus so you can expel it more easily from your system.
  • Cough Medicine – OTC cough medicines can be used to assist with cough suppression.

Knowing when to call your physician is crucial to prevent serious complications. Keep an eye out for these symptoms and call your doctor should they arise:

  • Sleeplessness due to excessive coughing
  • You experience multiple recurrences of bronchitis in one year
  • A cough that lasts for longer than three weeks
  • Your cough produces blood
  • Your mucus is abnormally discolored
  • You encounter a fever higher than 100.4 Fahrenheit
  • You are experiencing shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Your cough persists for longer than three weeks

Your physician can use any combination of chest x-rays, pulmonary function tests, or sputum tests to diagnose bronchitis. Following your diagnosis, the treatment your doctor prescribes will depend on what’s causing your bronchitis and how severe your symptoms are. Treatment can include inhalers, steroidal medications, prescription cough medicine, or antibiotics for bacterial bronchitis. With chronic bronchitis, prescribed treatment may differ and include an extended pulmonary rehabilitation program to promote better breathing.

What Complications Can Arise?

Bronchitis is a serious respiratory condition and should be treated as such. By remaining proactive with bronchitis, you can most likely ward off further infection. However, complications can occur in those who smoke, have underlying medical conditions, or with a severe infection. Complications can include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • A bacterial superinfection
  • Hemoptysis
  • Reactive airway disease

How to Prevent Bronchitis

Often, bronchitis is unavoidable and can occur as a result of various viral infections or colds. However, there are steps that you can take to reduce your chances of developing bronchitis or any related complications. Consider these precautions:

  • Cold Recovery – If you catch a cold, be sure to prioritize your recovery. Using effective cold remedies, getting plenty of rest, and taking any medication prescribed by your physician can help you recover quicker and prevent further complications like bronchitis from developing.
  • Stop Smoking – Smoking isn’t good for any of your internal systems, but it can particularly affect your lungs and ability to recover from respiratory illnesses. If you currently smoke, it’s recommended that you take steps to quit as soon as possible. Also, be sure to avoid others smoking around your or within your home.
  • Keep Up Vaccines – Vaccines, such as for flu or pneumonia, can help reduce your chances of getting sick and developing bronchitis.
  • Eat Right and Exercise – A healthy diet and regular exercise is essential to keep your body’s immune system healthy.
  • Wash Your Hands – By washing your hands regularly, especially during cold and flu season, you can reduce your chances of getting infected with a virus or cold that leads to bronchitis.
  • Rest – Your body’s immune system is directly reliant on how much rest you regularly obtain. The more rest you get, the more energy your body has to fight off infections and keep things running smoothly.
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