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How long does bronchitis last?

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air into your lungs. There are two main types of bronchitis:

Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is a short-term condition that typically lasts for a few weeks. It’s often caused by a viral infection, with about 90% of cases caused by viruses like the flu, cold viruses, or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Bacterial infections can also cause acute bronchitis, but this is less common.

With acute viral bronchitis, symptoms usually last around 7 to 10 days but can persist for up to 3 weeks. A lingering cough may continue for several weeks after other symptoms go away.

Some factors that can affect how long acute bronchitis lasts include:

  • The specific virus causing your illness – For example, bronchitis from influenza may last longer than bronchitis caused by a common cold virus
  • Your age and overall health – Bronchitis tends to last longer in young children, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems
  • Whether you smoke – Smoking can prolong bronchitis symptoms and increase the risk of developing secondary bacterial infections
  • If you have asthma – Bronchitis can trigger asthma flare-ups and make symptoms persist longer
  • How soon treatment is started – Getting medical care and proper treatment early can help shorten the duration of acute bronchitis

With appropriate rest and care, most healthy adults recover completely from acute bronchitis within a few weeks. But some people may continue to experience persistent coughing for several weeks after other symptoms go away.

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts for at least 3 months, for two consecutive years. It’s a form of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In people with chronic bronchitis, the bronchial tubes are constantly inflamed. This causes thick mucus production, coughing, and breathing difficulties like shortness of breath and wheezing.

Unlike acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis is an ongoing, long-term disease. Once you have chronic bronchitis, symptoms can persist for years and require ongoing treatment and monitoring.

The biggest risk factor for chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes. Other risk factors include:

  • Secondhand smoke exposure
  • Air pollution
  • Exposure to dust, fumes, or chemicals
  • Genetics – such as alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency

Chronic bronchitis has no cure, but treatments can help manage symptoms. With proper care, people with chronic bronchitis can live for many years. But complications like COPD exacerbations or respiratory infections can flare up and cause worsening symptoms.

How Long Does Bronchitis Cough Last?

One of the most bothersome and persistent symptoms of bronchitis is coughing. Both acute and chronic bronchitis cause coughing, which can last for weeks after other symptoms improve.

For acute viral bronchitis, the cough often lasts 1 to 3 weeks, but can persist for up to 8 weeks in some cases. The cough may start out dry and unproductive at first, then become looser and produce mucus later on as your body fights off the infection.

Studies show that the average duration of cough from acute bronchitis is around 18 days. But about 40% of people still have a cough after 4 weeks. Post-bronchitis cough tends to be worse at night and may cause gagging or vomiting.

Chronic bronchitis also involves a cough that persists for months or years. Chronic bronchitis causes permanent changes to the airways and chronic inflammation, leading to constant mucus production and coughing.

Although chronic bronchitis cough may improve at times, it never fully goes away. It’s considered chronic once you have a mucus-producing cough for at least 3 months a year for two consecutive years.

How to Find Quick Relief from Bronchitis Cough

While bronchitis cough tends to go away on its own over time, you can try some remedies to find faster relief:

  • Cough medicines – Over-the-counter cough expectorants can help loosen mucus so it’s easier to cough up. Cough suppressants reduce the urge to cough.
  • Cough drops – Sucking on medicated menthol cough drops can temporarily soothe an irritated throat and cough reflex.
  • Steam – Inhaling steam from a hot shower or bowl of hot water can help loosen mucus from bronchial tubes.
  • Fluids – Staying well hydrated helps thin out mucus secretions.
  • Honey – Honey has natural cough-suppressing effects. Add it to tea or take in a spoonful.
  • Chest rubbing – Gentle chest rubbing with vapor rubs like Vicks VapoRub may provide relief from coughing and congestion.

See your doctor if home remedies aren’t helping your cough or it lasts longer than 3 weeks. You may need prescription cough medicine or other treatment.

When to See a Doctor

In most cases, acute bronchitis will clear up on its own without complications. You should visit your doctor if:

  • You’ve had a cough with mucus most days for more than 3 weeks
  • Your cough is accompanied by high fever, chills, chest pain, or breathing difficulties
  • You cough up blood-tinged mucus
  • You have other medical conditions like heart or lung disease
  • Your cough worsens or prevents normal activity
  • Your symptoms don’t improve or worsen after 1-2 weeks

Seeking medical treatment within the first week can help relieve discomfort and may prevent bronchitis complications. This is especially important for high-risk groups like the elderly, smokers, or people with asthma or other lung diseases.

Doctors can determine if you have acute or chronic bronchitis based on your symptoms and medical history. They may prescribe cough medicines, inhalers, steroids, antibiotics if needed, oxygen therapy for low oxygen levels, and other treatment to help you feel better.

Diagnosis of Bronchitis

To diagnose the cause of your cough and breathing problems, your doctor will:

  • Ask about your symptoms and how long you’ve had them
  • Listen to your breathing with a stethoscope
  • Examine your throat, lungs, and nose
  • Check your oxygen levels
  • Order tests such as a chest x-ray or CT scan to rule out pneumonia or other complications
  • Collect a sputum (mucus) sample for lab tests to detect bacteria or viruses

Based on the results, your doctor can determine whether you have acute viral or bacterial bronchitis or possibly chronic bronchitis related to COPD. Treatment can then be tailored to the specific cause.

Bronchitis Treatment and Recovery Time

Treatment focuses on relieving bronchitis symptoms and preventing complications. Treatment options may include:

Rest and Hydration

Getting adequate rest and drinking lots of fluids to keep mucus secretions loose can help speed recovery. This allows your body to focus energy on fighting infection.


  • Cough medicine – Over-the-counter cough suppressants and expectorants.
  • Inhaled bronchodilators – Such as albuterol to open narrowed airways.
  • Steroids – Oral or inhaled corticosteroids to reduce bronchial tube swelling.
  • Antibiotics – If bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection (less common).

Oxygen Therapy

Supplemental oxygen delivered through a nasal cannula or mask can help treat low oxygen levels.

Quitting Smoking

Stopping smoking is crucial for recovery if you have chronic bronchitis related to smoking. This prevents further lung damage.

With proper treatment, acute viral bronchitis typically resolves within around 3 weeks, but a lingering cough may persist longer. Listen to your body and avoid strenuous activity until your cough has cleared up.

Chronic bronchitis requires ongoing treatment and lifestyle changes. But with the right care, most people with chronic bronchitis can manage their symptoms and enjoy a good quality of life.

Preventing Bronchitis

You can reduce your risk of getting bronchitis by:

  • Washing hands often and avoiding close contact with sick people
  • Not smoking cigarettes and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Getting a flu vaccine every year
  • Wearing a mask if you work with chemicals or dust
  • Treating asthma, if present
  • Avoiding air pollution when possible

Proper rest, nutrition, and managing stress levels may also help keep your immune system strong to ward off respiratory infections.

Complications of Bronchitis

Most healthy people recover from acute bronchitis without complications, especially when treated promptly. But some individuals are at higher risk of complications like:

  • Pneumonia – Acute bronchitis may progress to pneumonia, which requires antibiotics and possibly hospitalization.
  • Lung damage – Repeated bouts of acute bronchitis can result in permanent lung damage and raise COPD risk.
  • Asthma – Bronchitis may trigger asthma attacks and worsen asthma symptoms.
  • Respiratory failure – Severe breathing difficulty may require oxygen therapy and ventilator support.

Chronic bronchitis also leads to complications over time, including:

  • COPD exacerbations – Flare-ups of COPD symptoms that may require hospitalization.
  • Pulmonary hypertension – Increased blood pressure in lung arteries, causing heart strain.
  • Heart failure – Chronic bronchitis contributes to heart enlargement and heart failure.
  • Respiratory infections – People with chronic bronchitis are prone to pneumonia, flu, and other lung infections.

Ongoing medical care is crucial for minimizing complications of chronic bronchitis. Quitting smoking, getting vaccinated, and taking inhaled steroids or other medications as prescribed can reduce exacerbation risk.

FAQs About Bronchitis

Can bronchitis last for months?

Acute bronchitis typically lasts around 3 weeks but can persist for a month or longer in some cases. Chronic bronchitis by definition lasts for at least 3 months of the year for 2 years straight. So bronchitis can last for months or even years if it becomes a chronic condition.

What color of mucus is normal with bronchitis?

Mucus from acute bronchitis often changes color over the course of the illness. It may start off clear or white, then turn yellow or greenish as your body’s immune response ramps up. Dark yellow, brown, or blood-tinged mucus can signal a bacterial infection or other issues needing treatment.

Can bronchitis lead to pneumonia?

Yes, untreated acute bronchitis can sometimes progress to pneumonia, which is a more serious lung infection affecting the alveoli (air sacs). Bacteria may also cause a secondary pneumonia infection. Chronic bronchitis also increases the risk of bacterial pneumonia due to impaired lung function and damage.

What is walking pneumonia?

“Walking pneumonia” refers to a mild case of pneumonia, usually caused by atypical bacteria like Mycoplasma pneumonia. Symptoms are mild enough that patients can still be up and about. It often follows an acute bronchitis infection. Antibiotics are used for treatment.

Can bronchitis cause permanent damage?

Frequent acute bronchitis infections can eventually lead to permanent airway damage. Chronic bronchitis also eventually causes irreversible lung damage due to years of inflammation. Quitting smoking and limiting recurring infections are key to preventing permanent lung injury.

When to Seek Emergency Care

Seek prompt emergency care if you experience:

  • Severe difficulty breathing or shortness of breath at rest
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Coughing up blood or bloody mucus
  • High fever and shaking chills
  • Confusion or blue lips or nails

These may be signs of a serious complication like pneumonia, a lung abscess, acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), or respiratory failure. Prompt treatment can prevent life-threatening complications.


Acute bronchitis typically lasts around 3 weeks, but a lingering cough can persist for a month or longer. Chronic bronchitis involves a cough that lasts at least 3 months a year for 2 years. While acute bronchitis usually resolves with proper rest and care, chronic bronchitis is an ongoing condition requiring regular treatment and monitoring.

The best way to prevent bronchitis is to quit smoking, practice good hygiene, and get vaccinated. Seek medical attention if your cough persists longer than 3-4 weeks or you experience worsening symptoms. With appropriate treatment guided by your doctor, you can recover from bronchitis and reduce the risk of complications.