Bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes, or air corridors that lead to the lungs. Acute bronchitis is sometimes stated as a chest cold and can be initiated by several types of viruses. Bacterial infections can also cause acute bronchitis. Bronchitis symptoms include shortness of breath, cough, chest pain, chest soreness, sore throat, watery eyes, fatigue, mild headache, chills, and body aches. Fever may be contemporary. The cough may bring up sputum, known as a productive cough.
Chronic bronchitis is bronchitis that lasts a long time and is most common in smokers. The main symptoms of chronic bronchitis are cough, difficulty in breathing (dyspnea), and wheezing.
Symptoms of bronchitis
The main symptom of bronchitis is a hacking cough. It is likely that your cough will bring up thick yellow-grey mucus, although this does not always happen.
Other symptoms of bronchitis are similar to those of other infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, and may include:
- Sore throat
- Runny or blocked nose
- Aches and pains
- Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color — rarely, it may be streaked with blood
- Shortness of breath
- Slight fever and chills
- Chest discomfort
In acute bronchitis, the person may have an irritating cough that stays for several weeks after the infection resolves. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts at least three months, with frequent attacks occurring for at least two consecutive years.
If you have bronchitis, your cough may last for several weeks after other symptoms have gone. You may also find that the frequent coughing makes your chest and stomach muscles sore.
Some people may experience shortness of breath or wheezing, due to sore airways. However, this is more common with long-term (chronic) bronchitis.
The symptoms are often worse in the winter, and it is common to have two or more flare-ups a year. A flare-up is when your symptoms are particularly bad.
When to See Your Doctor
See your doctor or general physician as soon as possible if:
- Your cough is very severe or lasts longer than three weeks
- You have a constant fever (a temperature of 38°C – 100.4°F – or above) for more than three days – this may be a sign of flu or a more serious condition, such as pneumonia
- You cough up mucus streaked with blood
- You develop rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pains
- You become drowsy or confused
- You have had repeated fits of bronchitis
You should also contact your doctor if you have an underlying heart or lung condition, such as:
- Heart failure – weakness in the heart that leads to fluid in your lungs
- Emphysema – damage to the small airways in your lungs
If you cough most days for at least three months
Some people, mostly smokers, may cough all the time without realizing that they have a long-term condition. If you cough most days, for at least three months, see your doctor, because you may have chronic bronchitis.