Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi, the airways leading to the lungs. It is one of the most common respiratory disorders in the United States. Bronchitis can be acute, usually associated with a respiratory infection, or chronic, which lasts for months. Bronchitis symptoms include a wet cough, shortness of breath, wheezing, fatigue, fever, and chest pain (from coughing). People at highest risk of developing acute bronchitis are infants, children and the elderly, while those at highest risk of developing chronic bronchitis are people over the age of 45 and those who smoke. Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. It’s estimated about 4% of adults in the U.S. have chronic bronchitis. Common Causes of Bronchitis Acute and chronic bronchitis have different causes. Acute bronchitis is most frequently caused by viruses, like a cold or flu. It can also be caused by a bacterial infection, usually pneumonia or whooping cough, but this isn’t common. Other causes of acute bronchitis include inhaling dust, smoke or other irritants in the air. The most common causes of chronic bronchitis are cigarette smoking, long-term exposure to irritants in the air, and repeated gastric reflux. For most people, the symptoms of bronchitis result from inflammation within the airways. Doctors seek to treat both the inflammation and the cause of the inflammation. For example, medical therapy for bronchitis may include antibiotics and a short course of corticosteroids. Bronchitis Treatment at Home Most cases of acute bronchitis clear up on their own. If you have bronchitis, you are coughing and bringing up sputum (phlegm), but you are not having trouble breathing. Here are some suggestions for caring for yourself at home: Drink extra fluids to stay hydrated. Use a vaporizer or humidifier to add moisture to the room air. This helps loosen the mucus in your airway, making it easier to cough up. Use an over-the-counter pain reliever, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen to relieve throat pain and decrease fever. Rest. Avoid over exertion that will make you breathe harder. You may be tempted to use a cough medicine to suppress your cough, but if you are bringing up mucus, the cough is important to help clear the mucus away. Cough suppressants are useful if you have a dry cough (no mucus) only. When to See a Doctor for Bronchitis It is not common for bronchitis to cause severe complications, but it can happen. If you have bronchitis and you have trouble breathing, call 911 or seek emergency help immediately. There are other reasons why you should see your doctor for bronchitis treatment if you are not getting better at home. These include: You are still coughing after 3 or 4 weeks. You are wheezing, making a high-pitched sound as you breathe out. You are very short of breath. You have chest pain. You have a fever that lasts more than a week. You begin coughing blood. Infants and babies should also be evaluated by a doctor for bronchitis as their health status can change quickly. People who have chronic bronchitis should see their doctor if there are any changes in the severity of symptoms. Who to See for Bronchitis If you are seeing a doctor because your bronchitis symptoms are not going away or are worsening, you may see your family doctor or primary care physician for evaluation and treatment. If you call 911 or go to an emergency room or urgent care facility, you may see an emergency room physician. Most often, these doctors can manage your care. However, if your acute bronchitis is severe, or if you have chronic bronchitis, you may be referred to a pulmonologist, a doctor who specializes in the respiratory tract. Check with your insurance company to see if you must have a referral from your primary doctor before seeing a pulmonologist. Bronchitis is a very common respiratory condition that affects children and adults. By caring for yourself at home, it generally goes away on its own. However, if you have any concerns about your breathing, don’t hesitate to seek help.