Also known as: acute bronchitis, chest cold, chronic bronchitis.

What is bronchitis?

The respiratory airways are the tubes that carry air into the lungs when one breathes in and allows for the carbon dioxide made by the body’s metabolism to be breathed out. These airways include the mouth, the trachea, bronchi and the smaller airways called bronchioles.

Bronchitis is a respiratory infection where there is inflammation of the trachea, bronchi and bronchioles. It may be acute (short-term) or chronic (a persistent cough lasting > 2 weeks).

What causes bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is primarily caused by viruses (approximately 90%) of whom the common ones include Adenovirus, Influenza, Parainfluenza, Respiratory syncytial, Rhinovirus and others. Uncommonly, when a secondary bacterial infection occurs, it does so in children who are exposed to cigarette smoke or have problems with their immune system or have a genetic disease called a Cystic Fibrosis.

The cough of chronic bronchitis is most commonly caused by inhaling second-hand cigarette smoke particularly in children with certain genetic variations, post nasal drip, air pollutants and children with allergies, asthma, cystic fibrosis, abnormalities of the hair- like structures that line the airways (cilia), chronic aspiration/foreign body, gastrointestinal reflux, fungal infections or other causes.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis?

Symptoms of acute bronchitis begin with a sore throat, runny nose, low grade fever, chills, and muscle pains with cough (usually dry) lasting 7-10 days. Acute wheezy bronchitis occurs commonly in infants < 2 years of age (also in older ones 9-15 years of age). Usually the cough only produces mucus in children older than 5 years of age.

The cough of chronic bronchitis in children is classified in many ways but commonly any cough lasting 2-4 weeks would be called chronic.

What are bronchitis care options?

Care for acute bronchitis or an acute flare-up of chronic bronchitis, initially requires ensuring the child’s adequate oxygenation. Other symptomatic treatments include rest, medications to lower the temperature, fluids, and avoidance of irritants or smoke. If your pediatrician suspects a secondary bacterial infection, or if a cough is wet and lasts longer than 2-4 weeks, antibiotics might be prescribed.

In the case of chronic bronchitis, particularly with wheezing, bronchodilator inhalers or corticosteroids might be helpful (antibiotics may be prescribed in a bacterial infection is suspected). Management of the underlying cause of the chronic cough will frequently result in improvement.

Reviewed by: Jack Wolfsdorf, MD, FAAP

This page was last updated on: September 09, 2019 02:30 PM