Your bronchial tubes deliver air from your trachea (windpipe) into your lungs. When these tubes become inflamed, mucus can build up. This condition is called bronchitis, and it causes symptoms that can include coughing, shortness of breath, and low fever.
Bronchitis can be acute or chronic:
Acute bronchitis typically lasts less than 10 days, but the coughing can continue for several weeks.
Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, can last for several weeks and usually comes back. This condition is more common in people with asthma or emphysema.
Symptoms of acute bronchitis
The first symptoms of acute bronchitis are similar to those of a cold or flu.
These symptoms can include:
feeling cold easily
back and muscle aches
fever of 100°F to 100.4°F (37.7°C to 38°C)
After the initial infection, you’ll probably develop a cough. The cough will likely be dry at first, and then become productive, which means it will produce mucus. A productive cough is the most common symptom of acute bronchitis and can last from 10 days to three weeks.
Another symptom you may notice is a change of color in your mucus, from white to green or yellow. This doesn’t mean that your infection is viral or bacterial. It just means that your immune system is at work.
Call your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms in addition to the ones listed above:
unexplained weight loss
a deep, barking cough
a fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher
a cough that lasts longer than 10 days
Diagnosing acute bronchitis
In many cases, acute bronchitis will go away without treatment. But if you see your doctor because of symptoms of acute bronchitis, they will start with a physical exam.
During the exam, your doctor will listen to your lungs as you breathe, checking for symptoms such as wheezing. They’ll also you ask about your coughs — for instance, how frequent they are and whether they produce mucus. They may also ask about recent colds or viruses, and whether you have other problems breathing.
If your doctor is uncertain about your diagnosis, they may suggest a chest X-ray. This test helps your doctor know if you have pneumonia.
Blood tests and cultures might be needed if your doctor thinks you have another infection in addition to bronchitis.