How Long Does Acute Bronchitis Last?

If you've had a cough for two weeks or longer without a cold, it may have bronchitis. Inflammation and mucus accumulation in the lungs (trachea or bronchi) is the cause of this condition, which usually affects children and adults, resulting in whooping cough. Depending on the duration of a cough, bronchitis may be acute or chronic. Unfortunately, there is no way to avoid it, as allergens can be found in the air you breathe and in the objects you touch. However, there are numerous methods to prevent bronchitis.

One of the most noticeable signs of bronchitis is a persistent cough with a wheezing or whistling sound. The cough caused by acute bronchitis often subsides within three to six weeks. Intense or uncontrolled coughing can cause several issues, pain in the throat, the abdomen, and the production of bloody sputum (phlegm). The illness may progress to pneumonia in sporadic cases. 

Bronchitis is characterised by the inflammation and swelling of the bronchial tubes, which leads to mucus that can obstruct the airway. Coughing is a common symptom of bronchitis that helps in the expelling of mucus when the mucus thickens. Although it is advisable to see a doctor if you develop bronchitis symptoms, it may not always be necessary if you are young, healthy, have no history of lung disease, and have no breathing difficulties.

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis often called a chest cold, is a temporary illness that resolves in a short period of time. It is one of the most common conditions in which the bronchial tubes inside the lungs become inflamed and swollen.1 The infection irritates the walls of the main airway (trachea), causing tissue edema and inflammation that may cause airway obstruction. Inflammation and trapped lung secretions cause an imbalance between blood flow and airflow.2 This can impact the oxygenation of the blood and the removal of waste carbon dioxide. Infectious viruses like the common cold or flu cause nearly 90% of cases of acute bronchitis. 

Although it predominantly affects children under five, it can affect anyone. It occurs more frequently during the winter, and approximately 5% of adults and 6% of children experience at least one episode per year. It typically does not require treatment, and most people recover from acute bronchitis without experiencing any long-term breathing difficulties. However, those with compromised immune systems or respiratory illnesses like asthma are more likely to experience serious problems.3,4,5 

People at high risk of developing acute bronchitis:

  • Kids 
  • Older people 
  • Asthmatic individuals 
  • Those with pre-existing conditions (such as cancer or diabetes)
  • Individuals who aren't immunised against respiratory illnesses such as the flu, pneumonia, and whooping cough

Causes of acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection, such as the common cold or flu, which inflames and swells the bronchioles as it goes down the upper airway and into the bronchioles.6,7 Acute bronchitis can also be caused by inhaling irritants like dust, smoke, allergens, air pollution particles, or even the powerful odours released by chemical cleaning products.8,9 It is very contagious and can spread through air droplets when a sick person coughs, sneezes, or speaks and you. It is also possible to contract a virus by touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth, eyes, or nose. 

Other causes of bronchitis

  • Cigarette smoking or being around a smoker
  • Asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder), or other respiratory illnesses
  • GERD (Gastroesophageal reflux disease)
  • An autoimmune condition or another inflammatory condition
  • Exposure to air contaminants (like smoke or chemicals)

In many instances, acute bronchitis is probably a consequence of the underlying disease. People with asthma or respiratory illnesses can develop acute bronchitis occasionally. This form of bronchitis is less likely to spread as a virus does not cause it. 

Symptoms of acute bronchitis

The most typical bronchitis symptom is a persistent cough. It's an extreme reaction to inflammation that helps get rid of mucus and keeps the airways clean. Intense or uncontrolled coughing can cause several issues, including pain in the throat, the abdomen and the production of bloody sputum (phlegm). Furthermore, it may trigger a slight fever. 

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include

  • Fatigue
  • Breathing with a wheezing sound
  • Chest discomfort (tightness or pain)
  • Discomfort in breathing
  • Weakness and soreness in the back and muscles
  • Chest pain
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Nose running
  • Throat pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Watery eyes

As your condition deteriorates, you will experience a dry cough followed by the production of white mucus which may turn to green or yellow due to inflammation and bacterial infection.10 Patients with weakened immune systems and young children are at higher risk of contracting acute bronchitis caused by bacterial infections. Symptoms may be more intense and last longer in the elderly. These symptoms might include fast respiration and mental confusion. Complications like pneumonia may also be more common in the elderly.11 

Acute bronchitis can develop into chronic bronchitis if it recurs frequently. A productive cough that has lasted for at least three months and has a chance of returning for at least two years is a symptom of chronic bronchitis12

Although cough, phlegm, and fatigue are classic signs of bronchitis, they are also symptoms of other illnesses; therefore, receiving the correct diagnosis and treatment is essential.

How long do symptoms of acute bronchitis last?

Most cases of acute bronchitis appear with rapid onset of symptoms. Usually, people recover from bronchitis within ten to fourteen days. The conditions often take two to six days to develop symptoms. In most cases, a person's contagious period begins in the hours before the onset of symptoms and continues until the symptoms have subsided10 The cough might linger for weeks afterward, and the illness typically lasts for 3 to 4 weeks. The duration of symptoms in some people can extend to six weeks.2


Mild cases of acute bronchitis typically do not lead to severe problems. In many cases, the condition improves independently, with no treatment required. Acute bronchitis caused by bacterial infections is less contagious among healthy individuals. 

To minimize your chances of contracting bronchitis-causing viruses:

  • Stop smoking and stay away from others who smoke
  • It's best to keep your distance from those ill with the flu or a similar respiratory virus
  • Regular hand washing or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is recommended
  • Never put your fingers in your mouth, nose, or eyes
  • The annual flu vaccination is a must

Home remedies13

  • Breath steam: The mucus in your lungs can be loosened, and your dry throat soothed by breathing in steam
  • Humidifier: A cough can be triggered or worsened by exposure to cold air or dust mites. With the help of a humidifier, you can improve the air quality in your bedroom and prevent dust mites from settling in
  • Salt water gargle: Warm salt water gargling can help soothe an inflamed or sore throat and clear up any lingering mucus. If you do this right before night, you might be able to put that cough to rest
  • Honey and lemon tea: Consuming hot tea mixed with honey and lemon water may relieve inflammation, soothe the throat, and clear mucus. Two teaspoons of honey before bed can help ease nighttime coughing. Honey stimulates salivation, which reduces inflammation in the bronchial tubes and lubricates the airways to alleviate coughing
  • Proper diet: Eat lots of nutritious grains, fruits, vegetables, chicken, fish, and low-fat or non-fat dairy to reduce your bronchitis cough
  • Drinking plenty of water: An excellent way to reduce mucus production is to drink at least 12 glasses of water per day
  • Proper rest


Antibiotics may be recommended by your doctor if it is found that you have bacterial bronchitis. It's possible that these drugs can shorten the time you're contagious, but they can't promise to speed up the recovery time for symptoms like a cough. If you have viral bronchitis, antibiotics won't help.14,15

Pain relievers: acetaminophen (For infants younger than six months) and ibuprofen (For children older than six months)

Cough and cold medicines: In young children, cough and cold remedies can have dangerous and occasionally fatal side effects. Consult your child's physician before giving children over-the-counter cough and cold remedies.


Acute bronchitis is more likely to cause localised symptoms like cough and chest congestion than to cause widespread systemic symptoms. 

Some complications might occur due to extended symptoms:

  • Chest pain: Coughing too much while you have bronchitis can stress your rib muscles and lead to chest pain8
  • Laryngitis: an inflammation of the vocal cords that can develop from excessive coughing and clearing of the throat. Immediate treatment is required to prevent permanent injury to the larynx16
  • Pneumonia and other life-threatening illnesses are a remote possibility11

When to seek medical help

You should contact your physician if:

  • You've been experiencing a persistent wheeze and cough for longer than two weeks
  • Condition gets worse at night, especially while lying down or engaging in physical activity
  • You experience foul-tasting liquid in your mouth. That could be a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Acid reflux occurs when stomach acid travels up the oesophagus
  •  A cough that produces blood, experience pain, and weaknesscontinuous high fever (38°C or 105°F), and difficulty breathing. In some cases, these signs can indicate pneumonia


Viral infections, such as the common cold and influenza, are the most common triggers of acute bronchitis. Some forms of bronchitis, such as those caused by bacteria, may be more common in the elderly, children, and people with weakened immune systems. Acute bronchitis is characterised by a sudden onset of many symptoms, including a cough, chest pain, runny nose, weary and achy, headache, chills, mild fever, and sore throat. The duration of acute bronchitis is typically between 10 and 14 days, though some symptoms may persist for longer. Symptom management is the primary focus of treatment. Antibiotics are usually unnecessary when treating acute bronchitis. Antibiotics may be needed if the condition develops into pneumonia.


  1. How long does bronchitis last? Timeline and factors that affect it [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 Jun 2]. Available from:
  2. Bronchitis - Symptoms and causes. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jun 2]. Available from:
  3. Acute Bronchitis [Internet]. [cited 2023 Jun 2]. Available from:
  4. How Long Does Bronchitis Last and When Should You See a Doctor? Healthline [Internet]. 2018 [cited 2023 Jun 2]. Available from:
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Avantika Pandey

General Dentist • Public Health Specialist, University of York, UK

I am a healthcare researcher with a background in dentistry who is presently pursuing a Master of Public Health at the University of York, UK. Prior three years' experience collaborating with medical teams and health care professionals to deliver medical treatment and patient care in clinics and hospitals.
I am a member of The Global Mental Health and Cultural Psychiatry Research Group, which promotes mental health care in LMIC. I am also working under the IMPACT program under University of York for mental health care in LMIC.

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