Will Bronchitis Go Away On Its Own

Bronchitis is a common inflammatory respiratory infection that affects your main lung airways. People of all ages can contract the infection via a range of different environmental and biological mechanisms. Bronchitis can cause an ongoing cough, fatigue, chest pain and fever similar to the common cold or flu.

Most bronchitis cases will indeed go away on their own, especially when a patient's lifestyle aligns with a healthy one (not smoking, getting enough sleep, eating healthy and doing enough exercise) and they do not have other health conditions. This is because the majority of bronchitis infections are acute, in which symptoms will disappear with proper self-care in around three weeks. Whilst this transient infection is the case for most, reoccurring and prolonged bronchitis infections will not only cause unbearable discomfort for the patient but the development of a serious chronic lung disease that can affect many facets of your life.

Therefore, one must understand the intricacies of a bronchitis infection, what it is, why it occurs, how it spreads and when to seek medical attention, to inform prevention and treatment actions and minimise disease risk. All will be addressed in this article.

What is bronchitis?

Types of bronchitis

Bronchitis is a chest infection in which a virus infects the lung bronchial tubes which are its main airways. The walls of the main airways that normally produce mucus as a trap for dust and other unwanted materials to spark their removal become irritated and inflamed by this respiratory infection. This encourages the airways to produce augmented amounts of mucus that the body has to contend with and attempt to move this excess by coughing. There are two main types of bronchitis, divided depending on how long the infection takes to clear from the body, acute bronchitis (most common, less severe, will last up to three weeks) and long-term, chronic bronchitis which is an ongoing persistent, more serious lung infection.

Symptoms of bronchitis

Bronchitis symptoms manifest in a range of different ways including:

  • A persistent cough
  • Coughing up yellow or green 
  • Mucus/phlegm
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing and shortness of breath
  • A headache
  • Congested nose
  • Feeling achy and fatigued

These symptoms overlap largely with a common cold in most bronchitis cases. The infection is acute, meaning it will clear along with the symptoms in 1-3 weeks. Though symptoms can go on for longer and are often a sign of long-term bronchitis which is a chronic infection.

Causes of bronchitis

Bronchitis is most commonly caused by a viral infection but can be caused by a bacterial infection too. These pathogens are breathed in so directly reach the airways and spread in small droplets that are coughed or sneezed out by an infected person. These droplets when landed on surfaces can be spread through touch too. Bronchitis normally occurs after someone has had a cold or flu when the infection has spread to the bronchial tubes and when the person is more susceptible to infectious damage due to a weakened immune system. This is why bronchitis incidence is higher in the winter as this is the time of year when more people fall ill with colds and flu.

The irritation and inflammation of the main airways that lead to bronchitis can be caused by breathing in harmful irritating substances like tobacco smoke, smog/air pollution and chemicals from domestic household products. Furthermore, exposure to grain dust, fabric fibres, ammonia, chlorine, and some strong acids can irritate the lung airways too and cause bronchitis. Most people at risk of this exposure come into contact with it due to their work in factories and laboratories. It is important to limit your risks to these lung irritant substances to boost your likelihood of bronchitis prevention.

How long do symptoms of bronchitis last?

Acute bronchitis symptoms will last for up to three weeks until the infection is cleared. The cough can be more stubborn than the other symptoms and last a few weeks longer.

Chronic bronchitis is much more serious. It is a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease which is an umbrella term for long-term lung diseases that each have the characteristic thread line of causing difficulty breathing. According to the NHS, Chronic bronchitis presents as an ongoing cough for at least three months each year for two years or more.1

What helps you feel better when you have bronchitis?

Home remedies and prevention

If you get infected with bronchitis, take these at-home steps to cope with the uncomfortable symptoms:

  • Get lots of rest
  • Keep hydrated – drinking lots of fluids will thin out the mucus building up in your airways to ease discomfort
  • Take painkillers - paracetamol and ibuprofen will help ease chest pain, muscle aches and a high temperature. Do not take ibuprofen if you are asthmatic, however
  • Take expectorants - help to move stubborn thick mucus from your lungs and airways
  • Avoid smoking – Breathing in tobacco smoke will irritate your lungs further and increase the likelihood of you developing chronic bronchitis
  • Drink honey and hot lemon – to ease a sore throat and increase fluid consumption 
  • Stay at home – to avoid spreading the infection to others

To prevent bronchitis, stop smoking, limit your occupational exposure to airway irritants and maintain a healthy lifestyle with a balanced diet and sufficient exercise, this will boost your immune system to be able to fight off infections effectively.

When to seek medical attention?

Contact your GP if your chest infection symptoms are unchanged or getting worse after three weeks. If you cough up blood seek medical advice too. Furthermore, if you are immunocompromised (a chemotherapy patient or have an autoimmune disease etc), are pregnant, have other chronic health conditions, or are over the age of 65, it is important to be vigilant about bronchitis and inform your doctor to prevent complications.

You can be prescribed drugs for bronchitis disease control although these are usually reserved for chronic, severe bronchitis as acute infections will usually go away without medical intervention. These medicines include steroids and bronchodilators to open up your lung airways and ease breathing difficulties. Mucolytic prescription medicines can be taken to thin mucus and make it easier to expel. You may think that antibiotics would benefit bronchitis patients, however, because the infection is normally caused by a virus, they are not necessarily useful in these cases. Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria.


Most bronchitis cases cause acute infections, so with proper rest and fluid intake, they will resolve on their own after three weeks. If this is not the case, this is an indicator of something more serious like chronic bronchitis. This article aimed to educate you on the causes of bronchitis so that you can make preventable lifestyle changes, the nature of the symptoms it causes so you can be in the know if you contract it and the steps you can take to ease your discomfort upon experiencing it.


  1. Woodfork K. Bronchitis. xPharm: The Comprehensive Pharmacology Reference [Internet]. 2007 [cited 2023 May 25]; 1–13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7151913/.
  2. How long does bronchitis last? Timeline and factors that affect it [Internet]. 2019 [cited 2023 May 25]. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/327087.
  3. Bronchitis - Diagnosis and treatment - Mayo Clinic [Internet]. [cited 2023 May 25]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bronchitis/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20355572.
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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Frankie Perrett

MSc Molecular Medicine and BSc Biological Sciences – University of East Anglia, Norwich

Frankie works in an NHS Hospital Pathology laboratory so has acquired excellent insight into many different diseases and their mechanisms of action.

Frankie’s Master’s course focused on key areas of biomedicine, centring around patient-first learning. In her degree, she specialised in Lung adenocarcinoma and its mechanisms of cell communication.

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