Bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs (bronchi), which causes them to become inflamed.
It is common in winter and often develops following a cold, sore throat or flu.
The main symptom of bronchitis is a cough, which may bring up yellow-grey mucus. Bronchitis may also cause a sore throat; wheezing and a blocked nose (see Symptoms of bronchitis for more information).
Anyone can be affected by bronchitis, although smokers and people who work with substances that can irritate the lungs, such as grains or textiles, are more likely to get it.
Bronchitis is usually a mild and self-limiting condition. Self-limiting means that it clears up by itself, usually within a couple of weeks. This is known as acute bronchitis as it lasts for only a short period of time.
However, in some cases, the damage caused by the infection of the bronchi can become permanent, causing the condition to be more severe and long lasting. If the infection lasts longer than three months, it is known as chronic bronchitis.
Most cases of bronchitis can be treated easily at home and do not usually require further medication. However, people with severe or chronic bronchitis, or those with an underlying condition such as asthma, may need treatment from a GP.
The main symptom of bronchitis is a hacking cough. It is likely that your cough will bring up thick yellow-grey mucus, although this does not always happen. Your cough may last for several weeks after other symptoms have gone, and you may find the continual coughing motion makes your chest and stomach muscles sore.
Other symptoms of bronchitis may include:
- a tight feeling in your chest
- sore throat
- slight fever and chills
- blocked nose and sinuses
- aches and pains
These symptoms, although unpleasant, are usually not severe and you may not need to see a specialist. However, the symptoms of bronchitis can be similar to those of pneumonia (an infection that causes inflammation in your lungs), so it is important to look out for any changes in your symptoms.
- your cough is very severe or lasts longer than three weeks
- you have a constant fever for more than three days
- you cough up mucus streaked with blood
- you develop rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pains
- you become drowsy or confused
- you have had repeated bouts of bronchitis
- you have an underlying heart or lung condition, such as asthma, emphysema (damage to the small airways in your lungs), congestive heart failure (weakness in the heart that leads to fluid in your lungs) or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (long-term lung damage).