No doubt you’ve had your share of colds. Perhaps you even know someone who has had pneumonia. In between these two conditions is an illness called bronchitis, which is more severe than the common cold but not as dangerous as pneumonia.

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis occurs when the bronchioles (air tubes in the lungs) are inflamed and make too much mucus. There are two basic types of bronchitis:

  • Chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two to three months each year for at least two years. The cough and inflammation may be caused by infection, illness, or exposure to tobacco smoke or other irritating substances in the air.
  • Acute or short-term bronchitis is more common and usually is caused by a viral infection. Episodes of acute bronchitis can be related to and worsened by smoking.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis?

Symptoms of bronchitis include:

  • A cough that is frequent and produces mucus
  • A lack of energy
  • A wheezing sound when breathing (may or may not be present)
  • A fever (may or may not be present)

When should I see my health care provider?

See your health care provider if you have:

  • A cold that lasts more than two to three weeks
  • A fever greater than 102° F
  • A fever that lasts more than five days
  • A cough that produces blood
  • Any shortness of breath or wheezing
  • A change in the color of mucus

How can I take care of myself?

If you have bronchitis:

  • Drink fluids every one to two hours, unless your doctor has restricted your fluid intake.
  • Rest.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Relieve body aches by taking aspirin or acetaminophen.
  • Follow your doctor’s instructions on ways to help you clear your mucus.
  • If you have a dry cough that is non-productive (there is no mucus), your doctor may prescribe a cough medicine to suppress your cough. He may also prescribe an expectorant to help loosen and mobilize mucus.
  • If you have a moist, productive cough (with mucus), note how often you cough as well as the color and amount of the sputum (mucus). Report this to your doctor.

What can I do to reduce my risk of getting bronchitis?

  • Don’t smoke.
  • Insist that others do not smoke in your home.
  • Stay away from or try to reduce your time around things that irritate your airway (nose, throat, and lungs).
  • If you catch a cold, get plenty of rest.
  • Take your medicine exactly the way your doctor tells you.
  • Eat a healthy diet.
  • Wash your hands often.
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