chest cold acute bronchitis

Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis) updated 2021

What is a chest cold?

Chest cold also known as acute bronchitis occurs when the airways of the lungs swell and produce mucus in the lungs, it may cause us to cough. It is the most common type of bronchitis. It lasts less than three weeks.

So if you have a cough, soreness in the chest, feeling tired, then you may have a chest cold, and this article is mainly for you.

In this article, we will discuss the causes of a chest cold, symptoms of a chest cold, treatment of a chest cold, prevention of a chest cold, one by one.

Chest cold symptoms:

In chest cold, the symptoms last less than three weeks. The cough can last for upto eight weeks. The most common symptoms include

  1. Coughing with mucus or without mucus. Cough is dry (non-productive) first; later, a lot of mucus is produced. Mucus can be clear, white, yellowish-grey or green.
  2. Sore throat
  3. Soreness in the chest
  4. Fatigue (feeling tired)
  5. Mild body aches
  6. Chills
  7. Headache
  8. Slight fever
  9. Shortness of breath
  10. Runny nose
  11. Watery eyes
  12. Wheezing

Chest cold alarming symptoms:

Chest cold alarming symptoms are those symptoms when appears then seek medical help. The alarming symptoms of chest cold are following

  1. The temperature of 100.4 degree F  (38 C) or higher
  2. Shortness of breath
  3. Cough with bloody mucus 
  4. Symptoms last longer than three weeks
  5. Repeated episodes of bronchitis
  6. It prevents you from sleeping
  7. Any severe symptoms that are a concern

It is always better to take medical help if you feel unwell, not sure what you are suffering for. Because many symptoms are overlapping with other medical conditions, so early diagnosis is important.

Chest cold causes:

  1. Chest cold is common after an upper respiratory infection. A virus commonly causes it.
  2. Bacteria can also cause it.
  3. Physical or chemical agents that we breathe in, such as dust, allergens, strong fumes, including those from chemical cleaning compounds or tobacco smoke.
  4. Chest cold may occur in people with chronic sinusitis, enlarged tonsils and adenoids, allergies etc. Pneumonia may occur as a complication of acute bronchitis.

Why cough appears in chest cold?

It is not well understood that why cough appears in chest cold or in viral infection.

Study shows that cough appears in chest cold may be due to direct damage to the respiratory mucosa, release of inflammatory substances in response to the infection, increased production of respiratory secretions or decreased clearance of respiratory secretions, also stimulation of airway irritant receptors may cause cough production.

Infection may enhance airway reactivity, so increased sensitivity to cold air and pollutants such as smoke may occur. This may also cause production of cough.

Here it is important to mention that cough appears in the first week of illness in 30 percent of rhinovirus colds in young adults.

Also, in 80 percent or more cases, cough is due to influenza A virus infection. Here cough is sometimes prolonged. Adenovirus infection can also result in bronchitis and associated cough production.

Chest cold risk factors:

Following factors can increase your risk to get a chest cold

Weak immunity-

Any other acute illness or any chronic condition that weakens our immune system makes us more prone to get chest cold. Older adults, young children and infants are more vulnerable.

Exposure to irritants-

Exposure to lung irritants for a longer time, such as exposure to chemical fumes, makes us more prone to get chest cold.

Chest cold diagnosis:

Diagnosis of acute bronchitis (chest cold) is sometimes done by medical history taking and physical examination. Following tests can also be done to confirm the diagnosis.

Chest X-rays-

Images of internal organs (lungs), tissues, bones etc. helps to confirm the diagnosis.

Arterial blood gas-

Analysis of the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood can be done.

Pulse oximetry-

The amount of oxygen in the blood can be measured.

Cultures of nasal discharge and sputum-

Your coughing up sputum or swab from the nose can be tested to identify the microorganism that causes the infection.

Pulmonary function tests-

It measures the ability of the lungs to move air in and out of the lungs.

Chest cold differential diagnosis:

Some symptoms of chest cold are similar to other diseases. So it is always important to confirm that you have chest cold, not those other diseases. The diseases that are commonly mistaken as chest cold are

  1. Non viral infections and non infectious causes such as cough variant asthma.
  2. Bordetella pertussis, Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae infections also cause prolonged cough.

Chest cold treatment:

Chest cold or acute bronchitis needs no antibiotics because it recovers on its own. It usually improves within 7 to 10 days without lasting effects, but coughs may be present for up to eight weeks.

So antibiotic will not give you an added advantage. That is why in chest cold antibiotics are not recommended. When we don’t need antibiotics, then we should not take them because they may cause antibiotic-related side effects.

Acute bronchitis like similar symptoms present in pneumonia or whooping cough( pertussis), in that case, your doctor will prescribe you antibiotics.

How to feel better-

Following are some measures that can help you to feel better during acute bronchitis.

  1. Take adequate rest.
  2. Drink adequate fluids
  3. Use saline nasal spray or drops to get relief from the stuffy nose (for children, use a rubber suction bulb to clear mucus)
  4. Use a clean humidifier or cool mist vaporizer. Because warm, moist air helps to relieve coughs. It also loosens mucus in the airway.
  5. Breath in steam from a bowl of hot water.
  6. Use honey to relieve cough for adults and for children at least older than one year of age.
  7. Over-the-counter medication can give you symptomatic relief temporarily, but it will not cure. Always consult with your doctor before taking any over- the – counter medicine.
  8. Adults may suck on lozenges.
  9. Wear a cold-air face mask before going outside if cold air aggravates your cough.

Chest cold over the counter medicine for children-

You should always consult with your child’s doctor about over- the- counter medicines. Children of certain ages are not recommended to take some over- the -counter medicines.

Pain relievers

Children younger than six months – Acetaminophen may be given.

Children 6 months or older- Acetaminophen or Ibuprofen may be given.

Never give aspirin to children because it can cause a very serious illness known as Reye’s syndrome.

Cough and cold medicines

Always consult with your doctor if over- the – counter cough and cold medicine is safe for your child.

Chest cold complications:

There are complications of chest cold (acute bronchitis). Acute bronchitis recovers on its own, but sometimes it becomes worse and progresses to chronic bronchitis or pneumonia. Then treatment is needed accordingly.

Chest cold prevention:

We all know that prevention is better than cure. The following measures can help you to prevent chest cold to occur

  1. Clean your hands frequently to reduce the chances of getting an infection.
  2. Get recommended vaccines such as flu vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine.
  3. Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  4. Direct smoking or even secondhand smoking is a no no for chest cold.
  5. Wear a mask if the air is polluted and if you are exposed to lung irritants such as strong fumes etc.


Chest cold is very common is population worldwide. Most of the time it cures with simple stress free lifestyle during chest cold days. Try to maintain a low profile work load free resting time during these days so that you can recover soon. Do not panic because chest cold recovers on its own. So antibiotics have no role. Rather you may try home remedies for chest cold to feel better. Certainly chest cold home remedies works best even when situation is worsen. Stay in home and take rest. Stay healthy and happy.


  1. Murray Nadels Textbook of Respiratory Medicine, 6th edition (page-782)
  2. Johns Hopkins Medicine
  3. Mayo Clinic
  4. NHS, UK
  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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