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Acute bronchitis in adults

Thomas M File, Jr, MD
Section Editors
Daniel J Sexton, MD
Mark D Aronson, MD
Deputy Editor
Sheila Bond, MD


Acute bronchitis is a common clinical condition characterized by cough, with or without sputum production, which lasts for at least five days. It is typically self-limited, resolving within one to three weeks. Symptoms result from inflammation of the lower respiratory tract and are most frequently due viral infection.

Treatment is focused on patient education and supportive care. Antibiotics are not needed for the great majority of patients with acute bronchitis but are greatly overused for this condition. Reducing antibiotic use for acute bronchitis is a national and international healthcare priority. (See 'Avoiding antibiotic overuse' below.)

The clinical features, diagnosis, and management of acute bronchitis are addressed here. Chronic bronchitis, a subtype of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is discussed separately. (See "Management of infection in exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease" and "Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging".)


Acute bronchitis is a lower respiratory tract infection involving the large airways (bronchi) without evidence of pneumonia that occurs in the absence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Chronic bronchitis is a subtype of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and is defined as a cough that lasts for at least three months in each of two successive years. (See "Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: Definition, clinical manifestations, diagnosis, and staging", section on 'Definitions'.)

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Literature review current through: Dec 2017. | This topic last updated: Nov 02, 2017.
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