Bronchitis (bron-KYE-tis) is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, the airways that connect the trachea (windpipe) to the lungs.
In bronchitis, the bronchial tubes become irritated and produce more mucus, and it may be harder for air to pass in and out of the lungs. The most common symptom of bronchitis is a cough, but it also can cause wheezing, chest pain, and a low fever.
Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, and it may occur with or after a cold or other respiratory infection. Chronic bronchitis is most common in smokers, although people who have repeated episodes of acute bronchitis sometimes develop the chronic condition.
Handwashing often helps prevent the spread of many germs that cause bronchitis — especially during cold and flu season.
Because acute bronchitis is most often due to a virus, the doctor may not prescribe an antibiotic (antibiotics only work against bacteria, not viruses). The doctor will recommend drinking lots of fluids, getting plenty of rest, and maybe using an over-the-counter or prescription cough medicine.
For chronic bronchitis, the goal is to reduce exposure to whatever is irritating the bronchial tubes. For people who smoke, that means quitting and avoiding secondhand smoke.
All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.
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