Each year, around 5% of adults get acute viral bronchitis, making it one of the top 10 most common illnesses. When you have bronchitis, the tubes in the lower respiratory tract become inflamed, causing symptoms that can make it hard to function in everyday activities.
Many treatments are available for bronchitis, with most being over-the-counter (OTC) options.In this article, we’ll explore the best options. I’ll start by discussing treatments. Then I’ll explain what bronchitis is, how it’s diagnosed, how to prevent bronchitis, and when to seek medical attention.
Best Medication for Bronchitis
The care plan for bronchitis may include one or more medications, and the approach differs depending on your predominant symptoms.
Treatment for Acute Bronchitis
The following over-the-counter (OTC) and prescription medications can treat acute bronchitis.
- NSAIDs: Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) and naproxen (Aleve) can help address pain, inflammation, and fever.
- Bronchodilators: If you experience wheezing or if you have asthma or a history of COPD or other respiratory conditions, a medical provider might prescribe a bronchodilator in the form of an inhaler. Albuterol is the most commonly prescribed inhaler.
- Expectorants: Excess mucus in the bronchi, lungs, or trachea can make breathing with bronchitis difficult. Expectorants help to clear mucus from the upper and lower airways. Guaifenesin (Mucinex) is a commonly used OTC expectorant.
- Cough suppressants: If you have a persistent cough from the body trying to clear mucus from the airways, cough medicine may help. Triaminic and Vicks 44 Cough and Cold are two OTC options. Both contain the active ingredient dextromethorphan.
What Is Bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an infection of the lower respiratory tract. Inflammation in the bronchial tubes causes difficulty with moving air in and out of the lungs.
Common symptoms of bronchitis include:
- Shortness of breath
- Excess mucus production
Acute Bronchitis Facts
Acute bronchitis is a common respiratory infection that some may confuse for a cold:
- It is most often caused by a virus that infects the lower respiratory tract
- Symptoms usually start 3-4 days after infection and improve around 2-3 weeks later
- It can be contagious during the first part of the infection
- Medications can ease discomfort but will not speed the time to healing.
To diagnose bronchitis, a medical provider first asks about symptoms and performs a physical exam.
Since it is mostly caused by a viral infection, the best way to prevent acute bronchitis is to practice good hygiene and hand-washing and not spend time around people who are sick or coughing.
When to Seek Medical Attention
If you develop a cough and other symptoms of respiratory illness (like breathing problems), see a healthcare provider. While acute bronchitis may not require treatment, the symptoms can overlap with other viral or bacterial sickness.
A medical provider can evaluate your symptoms, make an accurate diagnosis, and recommend a treatment plan.
Seek medical attention if any of the following occur:
- Fever higher than 100.4ºF that does not respond to OTC pain relievers or that lasts for more than a few days
- Cough with bloody mucus
- Problems breathing
- Symptoms that do not resolve within three weeks
- Recurring infections of bronchitis
How K Health Can Help
Did you know you can access online urgent care with K Health?
Check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed, text with a healthcare provider in minutes.
K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and is based on 20 years of clinical data.
Frequently Asked Questions
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.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
Acute bronchitis. (2022).
Treating acute bronchitis. (2020).
Chronic bronchitis. (2021).
Acute bronchitis. (2017).
Preventing and treating bronchitis. (n.d.).