Bronchitis (Acute)

Acute bronchitis is a common chest infection that can affect people of any age. Read about the symptoms and learn how to protect yourself.
Clinically reviewed by:
Dr Graham Denyer on 23.6.2021


Also known as Bronchitis, Chest infection or a Chest cold.

  • When the bronchi (airways) in the lungs become inflamed, they produce more mucous. The body tries to remove this excess mucous by coughing. We call this condition acute bronchitis.
  • Acute bronchitis is very common, particularly in winter during cold season.
  • It usually caused by a viral infection. This is most often the same viruses that cause colds and the flu
  • Acute bronchitis is not the same as chronic bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis is a long term condition, while acute bronchitis usually gets better in a few days.
  • Most people with acute bronchitis won’t require any medical assistance or medication. The cough may linger for a few weeks.

Need help?

If you’re worried about your baby regardless of how serious their symptoms seem, contact your GP or call Healthline on 0800 611 116

What causes acute bronchitis?

  • Most cases of acute bronchitis are caused by a viral infection.
  • Sometimes acute bronchitis can be bacterial, but this is rare.


In adults

The main symptom is a cough which may bring up mucous (phlegm).

Other symptoms may include:

  • Mild fever
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Feeling tired (Fatigue)
  • Chest soreness
In children
  • Bronchiolitis is similar to bronchitis but affects babies and very young kids. Both can be caused by a virus and both affect the airways in the lungs. But bronchitis affects the larger airways (the bronchi), while bronchiolitis affects the smaller airways (bronchioles).
  • Babies with bronchiolitis may have the following symptoms; Runny nose, fever, coughing, short fast breaths,wheezing, breathing that requires a lot of effort
  • Most babies will recover on their own and if your baby is feeding normally and breathing ok, they’re probably fine to stay home. However babies can get worse quickly and if you have any concerns you should always get them checked out.


For adults

For most people, acute bronchitis will go away on its own. To help your body fight off the virus you should:

  • Take it easy and rest for several days
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Prop up your head with an extra pillow when you go to bed
  • Lay off cigarettes or switch to vaping if you’re a smoker, or better yet, quit - your GP can help you with this.
  • Use your inhaler if you’re an asthmatic or have another lung condition
For children

Here are some tips to help them get recover:

  • Giving them smaller feeds more often
  • Letting them rest
  • Keeping them away from smoke
  • Using saline nose drops to help clear their nostrils – these can be purchased from a pharmacy
  • Paracetamol may be given to babies with a temperature, but be sure to give them the correct dosage.

If you’re worried about your baby regardless of how serious their symptoms seem, contact your GP or call Healthline on 0800 611 116

  • Acute bronchitis normally goes away without the need for medication, however, some people may choose to use medication to relieve their symptoms.
  • Paracetamol or ibuprofen can be used to relieve aches and bring a fever down.
  • Some people may choose to use an 'over the counter' cough medicine from the pharmacy, but there is some debate as to how effective these are. If you do go down this route, talk to your pharmacist about which cough mixture is right for you. Cough medicines should be not be given to kids who are younger than 6.
  • Some doctors may prescribe an inhaler to help open up the airways of particularly wheezy patients.
  • Antibiotics are seldom used because most cases of acute bronchitis are viral. If a doctor believes that the cause is bacterial, they might prescribe antibiotics.
Home remedies

Hot water with lemon and honey mixed in can relieve a sore throat and cough.

Common over-the-counter medications

Ibuprofen, paracetamol and most cough medicines can all be purchased over-the-counter at a pharmacy.

Proactive protection
  • Protect yourself with an annual flu vaccination.
  • Washing your hands is one of the best ways to protect yourself from catching a virus, particularly before eating or preparing food.
  • Consider wearing a facemask when you’re not socially distancing
  • Steer clear of people who have been sick with coughs and colds.
  • Stay away from things that will irritate your lungs, like cigarettes and vapes. Babies who live in smoke-free homes are also less likely to catch bronchiolitis.
  • Babies who are breastfed have an increased immunity so breastfeeding will help to protect them against bronchiolitis.

What can I do?

See a doctor if you still have a cough after 3 weeks.

  • Certain symptoms could indicate that something more serious is going on, such as pneumonia. If you have any of the following symptoms, see a doctor immediately; Shortness of breath, Chest pains, Coughing up blood, High fever

If your baby is under 3 months old and starts to show any of these symptoms, take them to a doctor or medical centre immediately:

  • Their breathing is short and fast or seems to require a lot of effort
  • They appear pale or unwell
  • They’re not feeding as well, taking less than half of what they normally do
  • They’re vomiting
  • They’re dehydrated and have less wet nappies than usual

If your baby has any of the following symptoms, call an ambulance by dialling 111:

  • Their lips and/or tongue has turned blue
  • They’re having trouble breathing
  • There are pauses between their breaths
  • They’re extremely tired and difficult to wake up
  • They’ve gone pale
  • They feel floppy
Tend doctors can help

If you have flu symptoms and would like medical advice without needing to leave the house, you can book an online appointment with a Tend doctor through your app.

After the appointment, your doctor may advise that an additional, in-person appointment is required, to ensure you receive complete care. In some cases, we may require this before administering a prescription.

If this is the case, we'll book you for an in-person appointment at a time that suits you, at no extra charge.

How long does acute bronchitis last?

  • Most people will begin to feel better after several days, but the cough may stick around for a few weeks.
  • Babies with bronchiolitis may have a cough that lasts anywhere from 10 days to a month.