Acute bronchitis

Dr Henry Knipe and Dr Jeremy Jones et al.

Acute bronchitis (plural: bronchitides) refers to acute-onset, short-term bronchial inflammation. It is usually self-limiting and often the result of a viral infection. Chest radiography is rarely necessary.

Acute bronchitis can affect people of all ages, but it is commonest in children, especially those under the age of 3 years. It is often associated with the common cold, a sore throat and/or flu.

The main symptom is a hacking cough that may be associated with sputum production. Sputum is usually yellow or clear and different from the green sputum that is more often associated with lower respiratory tract infections.

Patients will often have nasal and sinus infection and describe a runny nose or sinus symptoms which include pain. As well as cough and sputum production, patients may describe other general symptoms including wheezing, shortness of breath, chest pain and headache.

Acute bronchitis is usually an inflammatory reaction to a virus. However, rarely, there may a bacterial cause, or possibly an inflammatory response to an irritant, e.g. smoke, dust or fumes.

Chest radiographs are not routinely indicated in cases of simple acute bronchitis. Indications for chest x-rays in adult patients with acute bronchitis are primarily to evaluate for pneumonia and include 1:

  • tachycardia
  • tachypnea
  • fever >38ºC
  • egophony or fremitus on examination

These are usually normal. Sometimes, bronchial wall thickening, which is non-specific, is attributed to acute bronchitis 1,2

Treatment is supportive, consisting of analgesia and sometimes bronchodilators 2.

Share article

Article information

rID: 72178
Tag: cases, refs
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Acute bronchitides

Support Radiopaedia and see fewer ads

Updating… Please wait.

 Unable to process the form. Check for errors and try again.

 Thank you for updating your details.