Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of the lining of the air passages of the lungs (the bronchi).It is usually caused by a virus and often occurs after a cold, sore throat or flu. This is because the virus spreads from the nose or throat to the bronchi causing bronchitis.  It is more widespread during the winter months. During the cold weather people tend to stay indoors more and viruses are more easily spread in closed environments. Babies, the elderly, smokers, people who suffer from a pre-existing lung disorder and people who are exposed to pollution or dust are more likely to develop acute bronchitis.


Acute bronchitis comes on very quickly but only lasts about a week or two. Symptoms include coughing, production of phlegm, chest pain when coughing, breathlessness, tightness of the chest, wheezing and a high temperature.  Your doctor will be able to confirm whether you have bronchitis by assessing your symptoms and listening to your chest using a stethoscope. However, if the diagnosis is uncertain, you may have to undergo further tests.

Self-Help Measures

  • Do not smoke and avoid smoky atmospheresDrinking plenty of water will help to loosen the phlegm making it easier to cough up
  • Using a humidifier or inhaling steam may help to ease your symptom


As bronchitis is often caused by a virus, it should clear up on its own without treatment.  Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen may be used to relieve pain and reduce fever.  Antibiotics will not help to cure bronchitis: they are used to fight infections caused by bacteria or fungi, not viruses. However, any bacterial infection which may develop as a direct result of having bronchitis may require antibiotic treatment.When To See A DoctorIf you are suffering from any of the symptoms listed above and they do not clear up after three days, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you develop severe breathlessness, if you cough up blood or if you have a temperature of more than 38.3°C, make an appointment to see your doctor. If you suffer from long-term heart or lung disease and you develop any of the symptoms listed above, make an appointment to see your doctor.Additional Information

If you would like to give up smoking, ask your pharmacist for a leaflet. Leaflets about colds, flu, coughs and sore throat are also available.