Acute Bronchitis is caused by viruses, not bacteria (see Differences Among Germs). So antibiotics don’t work!!! The patient mainly has a cough, maybe some shortness of breath. With a stethoscope, we can hear wheezes and/or rhonchi. Wheezes are long, high-pitched sounds during expiration (breathing out), rhonchi are short squeaks and gurgles during inspiration or expiration. We also hear expiration lasting longer than inspiration (normally, when listening with a stethoscope, inspiration sounds longer).
The latter is important, because a lot of clinicians don’t realize this. If they don’t hear an actual wheeze, they say “lungs are clear.” Actually, a long expiration phase really is a wheeze, but too high-pitched to hear; if we were dogs, we’d hear it. So if you ever have a cough, & your provider listens with a stethoscope & says “your lungs are clear,” ask them if expiration is longer than inspiration. If so, you’re wheezing.
Bronchitis usually just lasts 1-2 weeks. But some people develop post-viral bronchospasm from the inflammation. So even though the virus is dead, symptoms may last up to 3 months.
It’s impossible to tell the difference between Acute Bronchitis and Asthma. If symptoms last over 3 months, asthma is likely. I also diagnose asthma if another episode occurs — nobody tends to get frequent bronchitis. I’ve seen this diagnosed over and over, however; some clinicians don’t realize that asthma can occur without wheezes, just rhonchi and a long expiration when heard by stethoscope.
There are plenty of good ways to treat asthma, so the diagnosis is important. However, even it’s just Acute Bronchitis from a virus, that will go away eventually on its own, medications for Asthma work well. Chronic Bronchitis is a form of COPD. That’s a lot different. See Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease.