Is My Congestion & Cough From Bronchitis?

Do you have a persistent, hacking cough? Are you coughing up mucus? Is your cough worse at night? Are you running a fever? If so, you may have an illness called bronchitis. Bronchitis is the inflammation and infection of the tubes (bronchial) in the lungs. Primarily a virus causes it, but you can develop a bacterial infection if you have bad lungs or are a smoker. Bronchitis is contagious through the air when infected persons cough into the air, and then you or a loved one breathes in the virus droplets.

Common Bronchitis Symptoms

The symptoms of bronchitis include a cough; that is the most defining trait. A cough is usually worse at night but can occur throughout the day. You may have “stuff” (sputum, mucus) you cough up. Some people have a fever with bronchitis as well. You may develop shortness of breath, wheezing, difficulty breathing, and pain in your chest and ribs from coughing so much. The symptoms usually last a week to two weeks, but a cough can continue and linger for six to eight weeks.

Common bronchitis symptoms include:

  • Cough
  • Fever
  • Wheezing, shortness of breath
  • Pressure on the chest (like an elephant is sitting on your chest)
  • Tired
  • Rib and chest pain from coughing

Who is at Risk for Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a very common illness that occurs in the fall and winter months. It sends millions of people to the doctor yearly. Individuals who are more at risk to develop bronchitis include the elderly, young children, and infants. Bronchitis occurs more in smokers and if you have bad lungs from a chronic lung disease. Women are twice as likely to develop bronchitis as men.

Your risk for bronchitis also increases if you have a job where you are in contact with dust, chemicals, or animal dander. These types of jobs include mining coal, harvesting grain, painting without appropriate masks and breathing equipment, and farming with livestock such as chickens.

What will my Doctor Ask me?

The doctor will ask you several questions during your visit. The doctor may ask you:

  • How long you have had the symptoms and when you first noticed them
  • If you have a cough and if it is worse at night
  • If you have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest tightness, or wheezing
  • How frequent you are coughing and if there is anything that makes a cough better or worse
  • If you have a fever and how high it has been
  • If your family members are sick with the same symptoms
  • If you have been traveling outside the country
  • If you are a smoker or if you have a disease of the lungs
  • If you have any medical history
  • What medications you are currently taking (be sure to bring a list if you are on many medications)

What is the Treatment for Bronchitis

Treatment for bronchitis is to usually help with the symptoms you are suffering from. Because bronchitis is a virus, in most cases, antibiotics are not recommended or prescribed.

Medications

Your doctor will treat the symptoms you are ailing from. If you have a cough, they may prescribe cough medicine. It can be in either a liquid form or in a cough capsule. They may also start you on fever reducers such as Tylenol or Advil to stop to stop any pain from coughing as well as to keep your fever down if you are experiencing one. If you are having symptoms of wheezing or shortness of breath, your doctor may prescribe you an albuterol inhaler that will help open up your lungs so you can breathe easier.

Tests

If your doctor is having trouble determining whether you have bronchitis or pneumonia as the symptoms can be similar, they may have to run some further tests to distinguish which type of illness you have. The tests the doctor may perform include drawing blood to see if you have an increase in the cells that fight infection (white blood cells – WBC) or a sputum culture to determine if the material you are coughing up has bacteria in it and what kind of bacteria is present. They may also order a chest x-ray to look at your lungs to see if you have fluid (consolidation) in your lung. If you do, you would be diagnosed with pneumonia and would be prescribed an antibiotic, as it is a bacterial illness.

What do I Need to Know about Bronchitis? – Patient Education

  • Bronchitis is a viral disease, and you do not need antibiotics to get better
  • Bronchitis is contagious. You catch it from someone who coughs in the air. You can also catch it if someone doesn’t wash their hands after coughing into their hands and then shakes your hand or touches a doorknob.
  • Handwashing is critical in preventing the spread of bronchitis
  • Cover your mouth with your hand when you cough and then wash your hands immediately
  • If you smoke, you should stop; the smoke is bad for your lungs and causes you to develop bronchitis often
  • A bronchitis cough can last up to eight weeks
  • Avoid antihistamines such as Benadryl because they can dry up secretions and make it hard to cough them up
  • Drink plenty of water to keep secretions loose, moist, and easy to cough up
  • Try and get plenty of rest

Emergency Warning Signs/When to Follow Up

You should follow up if your symptoms last longer than fourteen days or if you are worsening. Follow up if you develop a high fever (101 or above) or if you cough so hard and so long that you are having difficulty breathing. Make sure to follow up if you do not improve within six weeks, as you will need further evaluation by a medical professional.

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Carefree M.D. is a safe, secure and reliable way to receive a medical consulation or prescription for your bronchitis online. We connect you via webcam* or phone with a local board certified doctor.

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