How Long Does Bronchitis Last? Acute and Chronic Bronchitis Duration

By Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP
Medically reviewed
November 9, 2021

If you feel like your seasonal cold is worse than usual—for instance, if you’re experiencing excessive coughing, yellow-like mucus, a sore throat, and other severe cold-like symptoms—you may actually have bronchitis.

This illness is usually caused by a viral infection, similar to the ones responsible for the common cold or the flu. 

There are two types of bronchitis: Acute and Chronic Bronchitis.

This article will help you determine the differences between the two illnesses, including their symptoms and causes. I’ll also outline how long each type of bronchitis lasts, and discuss recommended methods of treatment.

I will also explain when you should consult a doctor and how the K Health app can assist you on your road to recovery.

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What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis feels more severe than a cold, but not as severe as pneumonia.

The illness occurs when the bronchial tubes become inflamed.

These tubes are part of the lower respiratory tract, which carries air to your lungs.

When the lining of the bronchial tube becomes irritated and inflamed, it generates excess mucus in the lungs—triggering symptoms of bronchitis.

There are two types of bronchitis: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.

Their symptoms are similar, but the duration of the illnesses is different.

Each also requires different methods of treatment. 

Symptoms of Bronchitis 

If you think you have bronchitis, you may find yourself coughing up thick and discolored mucus or developing a cough headache.

Rib pain is also expected due to excessive coughing.

Acute bronchitis is often called a chest cold, with its first symptom usually being a dry cough.

If you have chronic bronchitis, you may need a chest X-ray to confirm that you do not have pneumonia or a serious lung disease. 

Common symptoms of bronchitis include: 

Causes of Bronchitis 

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that cause colds and the flu.

When these viruses affect the lining of the bronchial tubes, your cold or flu can develop into bronchitis.

Viral infections are contagious, so be careful not to infect your loved ones, colleagues, or friends.

Wash your hands, stay home when you’re sick, and keep your distance from loved ones to avoid spreading the virus. On very rare occasions, your acute bronchitis may be caused by a bacterial infection.

Chronic bronchitis lasts much longer than acute bronchitis, and is usually caused by constant exposure to air pollutants and cigarette smoke.

You are at a high risk of developing chronic bronchitis if you are regularly exposed to toxic air chemicals, or are an avid smoker.

Your doctor may recommend a chest X-ray to diagnose chronic bronchitis and to see if you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

How Long Bronchitis Lasts

The duration of acute bronchitis versus chronic bronchitis is very different.

Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own, but chronic bronchitis could be a lifelong illness.

Acute Bronchitis 

Similar to the common cold, acute bronchitis is caused by a viral upper respiratory infection.

Symptoms usually develop three to four days following exposure to the virus.

The symptoms of acute bronchitis are very similar to the common cold, so you can expect to find relief after seven or 10 days.

Sometimes, the cough may linger for a few days or weeks after other symptoms have disappeared.

Acute bronchitis should not lead to other health issues like pneumonia unless you suffer from asthma or another chronic lung disease. 

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a recurring illness that can last anywhere from two months to two years.

In severe cases, patients may battle chronic bronchitis annually.

To avoid worsening your chronic bronchitis, do not smoke cigarettes or expose yourself to air pollutants.

Flare-ups from chronic bronchitis can occur at any time during the year, but they occur most often in the colder months.

Treatment for Bronchitis 

Acute Bronchitis 

Acute bronchitis will usually go away on its own after a few days or weeks.

There are, however, some treatment methods that offer relief from your symptoms while you recover.

  • Steam: Using steam from a vaporizer or a humidifier can help clear up your air passages.
  • Lozenges and honey: These can help soothe your sore and achy throat.
  • Nasal sprays: Sprays like fluticasone (Flonase) are recommended to relieve a runny nose.
  • Over-the-counter (OTC) medicines: For pain and fever, over-the-counter medicines like ibuprofen (Advil) and acetaminophen (Tylenol) can offer relief.
  • Stay hydrated: Drink plenty of liquids, and include some hot liquids to help clear out mucus.
  • Rest: Get plenty of rest as you wait for the illness to pass.

If the cause of your acute bronchitis is a bacterial infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics.

If you were not prescribed antibiotics, do not take them, as their side effects can lead to other health issues. 

Chronic Bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis has no cure.

However, it can be treated with a range of options.

Your doctor may recommend oxygen therapy, steroids, pulmonary rehabilitation, or bronchodilator medications to open the airways. 

You can help reduce chronic bronchitis flare-ups.

Don’t smoke cigarettes, since it irritates the bronchial tubes.

Avoid exposure to secondhand smoke, air pollution, or other lung irritants that may be responsible for your chronic bronchitis. 

Think you may have bronchitis? Chat with a doctor today for just $23.

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When To See a Doctor

Acute bronchitis is not severe, and your symptoms will disappear over time.

But consult a doctor if you experience one or more of the following issues: 

  • Symptoms lasting more than three weeks 
  • Symptoms becoming extreme or severe 
  • A fever over 102° F (38.9°C) for more than two days
  • Coughing up or producing blood
  • Suspected pneumonia
  • An underlying health condition, such as asthma

How K Health Can Help 

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the quickest way to get over bronchitis?
The quickest way to get over acute bronchitis is rest and time. Your immune system will usually take seven to 10 days to clear up the infection. If your acute bronchitis was caused by a bacterial infection, then your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics. For chronic bronchitis, speak to a healthcare professional about recommended methods of treatment.
How long should you avoid people with bronchitis?
As long as you have active symptoms, avoid other people. The viruses that cause acute bronchitis are highly contagious, just like the common cold or influenza. You can return to school or work after your symptoms have gone away. If you have a slight cough, make sure you cover your mouth and nose. Acute bronchitis caused by a bacterial infection is less contagious, but can still be passed along to vulnerable populations like infants and the elderly. Once you begin taking antibiotics, you’ll stop being contagious after 48 hours.
Is it possible to get bronchitis more than once?
Yes, it is possible to contract acute bronchitis more than once. Make sure you get plenty of rest so you can fully get better. If your bronchitis lasts for more than three weeks, consult a doctor.
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Irmanie Hemphill, MD, FAAFP

Dr. Hemphill is an award winning primary care physician with an MD from Florida State University College of Medicine. She completed her residency at Halifax Medical Center.