Bronchitis Recovery: What to Expect

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How long bronchitis, an inflammation of the bronchial tubes carrying air to and from your lungs, affects you depends upon the cause of your bronchitis: infectious or noninfectious. The bronchitis recovery timeline for acute bronchitis, which is infectious, can last for at least two weeks; while chronic bronchitis, which is generally noninfectious, can last much longer. The treatment you receive also may affect bronchitis recovery time. This can range from over-the-counter medications to home treatments, such as a steam shower, to more targeted treatments, such as pulmonary rehabilitation or even surgery. Knowing what to expect may make the time go by faster.

Recovery from acute bronchitis may take up to two weeks.

One of the most common types of bronchitis—acute bronchitis—is caused by a viral infection. In many cases, the virus is the same or similar to the cold or flu viruses. In some instances, breathing chemicals, dust, and other allergens can cause acute bronchitis. For many patients, such symptoms as cough, chest soreness and chills resolve on their own within two weeks. Over-the-counter medicines, such as cough medicine and pain relievers may help alleviate symptoms and make recovery more tolerable.

If your symptoms worsen instead of improving over the two-week recovery time, contact your doctor. It’s possible your symptoms are due to a condition other than a viral infection. If acute bronchitis progresses to bacterial pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

Bacterial bronchitis requires antibiotic treatment.

Bacterial bronchitis shares similarities to acute bronchitis, although the cause is due to a bacterial infection rather than a virus. Treatment usually includes antibiotics as well as cough medicine and fever reducers. Bronchitis recovery time with antibiotics may seem short because you start to feel better once the medication is in your system. However, you should not stop taking any antibiotics until you take the full prescription. This is necessary to kill all of the bacteria so the infection doesn’t flare up again.

Irritative bronchitis could linger for a few weeks or months.

If you are regularly exposed to industrial or environmental irritants, such as mineral dusts or chemical fumes, you may suffer from irritative bronchitis. The best treatment to alleviate irritative bronchitis is reducing or eliminating exposure to the inhalants. If you are exposed to these inhalants at work, wearing an air filtration mask may reduce how much you inhale, but you may still develop lung inflammation and bronchitis symptoms. Bronchitis recovery could take several weeks once the irritant is removed or reduced.

Asthmatic bronchitis recovery may be longer than for acute bronchitis.

Asthmatic bronchitis results from acute inflammation in the bronchial tubes in a person who also has asthma. Other symptoms include chest tightness, wheezing, and a chronic cough.

Treatments include anti-inflammatory drugs, bronchodilators, breathing exercises, and healthy lifestyle choices, such as drinking plenty of fluids, eating a healthy diet, and not smoking. Following your treatment plan for both asthma and acute bronchitis can shorten asthmatic bronchitis recovery time, but it may take weeks to completely eliminate your cough.

Chronic bronchitis requires long-term symptom management.

Although respiratory illnesses and infections can cause chronic bronchitis, it is most often diagnosed in smokers or those affected by secondhand smoke. Also known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), there is no specific cure for chronic bronchitis. Instead, recovery from bronchitis revolves around managing symptoms. Treatments include medications (such as anti-inflammatory drugs), oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation to strengthen your lungs and improve breathing.

You may experience improvement in a few weeks to a few months with ongoing, long-term symptom management for chronic bronchitis. If the prescribed medication or therapy is not improving your symptoms, tell your doctor. There are many COPD medicines. It’s possible a different medicine, or combination of medicines will work better for you.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Dec 12
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