Bronchitis is often known as a chest cold, and it commonly occurs after you’ve had an upper respiratory infection or cold. Bronchitis literally means an inflammation of the bronchial tubes in your lungs. When you have bronchitis, the bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs, become inflamed and irritated. This inflammation causes your bronchial tubes to create mucus, which not only causes you to cough but also narrows your airways and can cause you to have difficulty breathing.

Bronchitis can either be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts for a short period of time, while chronic bronchitis lasts for two months or more and can be common among smokers or those with asthma.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and occurs after you’ve had an upper respiratory infection such as a cold. It can also occasionally be caused by a bacterial infection or after inhaling irritants or pollution such as cigarette smoke.

Symptoms of acute bronchitis include:

  • A cough that can be wet (produces mucus) or dry
  • Soreness in your chest
  • Fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Other cold symptoms, including sore throat, runny nose, or fatigue

When to urgent care for bronchitis

While many cases of bronchitis will resolve on their own, there are times when you may need treatment from an urgent care doctor. You should visit an urgent care near you if:

  • Your cough lingers for more than a week after other cold symptoms have resolved
  • You're coughing up colored or bloody mucus
  • You develop a fever with your cough
  • You're short of breath
  • You have difficulty sleeping

What your urgent care doctor can do for bronchitis

When you visit an urgent care doctor with symptoms of bronchitis, your doctor will review your symptoms with you. They'll want to know what symptoms you’re experiencing, when they began, as well as the severity of your symptoms. You should also tell your doctor about any changes in your symptoms or over-the-counter medications you’re taking.

Your urgent care doctor will then conduct a physical exam and will examine your ear, nose, and throat, listen to you breathe, and may also check your blood oxygen saturation. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor may order a chest x-ray to rule out pneumonia or blood work to better understand how your body is responding to this illness.

Since many cases of bronchitis are caused by a virus, antibiotics aren’t usually an effective treatment. However, your urgent care doctor may prescribe medication to alleviate your symptoms, including cough medication and anti-inflammatories. Your doctor may also offer an injectable steroid to help you feel better if your symptoms are severe.

What you can do to treat bronchitis

There are many things you can do at home to improve your bronchitis symptoms. As with any kind of infection, drink plenty of fluids and get as much rest as you can. Take over-the-counter anti-inflammatories as directed. It may help to run a cool-mist humidifier in your room at night while you sleep, but make sure that you’re using a humidifier with a clean filter.

Steam can also help relieve your symptoms. Since most people don’t have easy access to a sauna, you can create a steam room in your own bathroom. Close the door to your bathroom and run a very hot shower. Once the shower begins to create steam, sit in the bathroom (but not in the shower) for up to ten minutes and breathe in the steam. Steam helps break up the mucus in your chest.

Feeling under the weather?

We have five convenient urgent care locations in the Birmingham metro area. And since illness rarely happens during regular business hours, we have extended weekday hours and are open seven days a week. Walk-ins are always welcome for urgent care visits.