What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to the lungs, become irritated and inflamed. When they are inflamed, the lungs produce excess mucus and cause your child to cough.
Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to the lungs, become irritated and inflamed. When they are inflamed, the lungs produce excess mucus and cause your child to cough.

Acute bronchitis is sometimes called a chest cold. It can develop after your child has a cold or upper respiratory infection. Bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, the airways that carry air to the lungs, become irritated and inflamed. When they are inflamed, the lungs produce excess mucus and cause your child to cough. The body will usually heal acute bronchitis on its own, but it can develop into pneumonia


Bronchitis affects the airways leading to the lungs. Pneumonia affects the air sacs in the lungs, called alveoli. Pneumonia is much worse than bronchitis and needs immediate treatment. Pneumonia symptoms are similar to bronchitis symptoms, but generally more severe. 


Chronic bronchitis is caused by an irritation of the airways, usually from smoking or other exposure to irritants such as toxic gasses. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions classified as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and needs to be managed by a doctor. Chronic bronchitis in children is very rare. It is much more likely for your child to have acute bronchitis. 

Signs and symptoms of bronchitis in children

Acute bronchitis usually starts with an upper respiratory infection. Your child may experience any of the following symptoms: 

Types of bronchitis in children

Acute bronchitis

Acute bronchitis usually lasts for 7 to 10 days, although the cough may persist for up to a month. It doesn't cause any lasting effects. 

Chronic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is a cough producing mucus that lasts for more than three months, with episodes recurring for at least two years in a row. 

Causes of bronchitis in children

The most common cause of acute bronchitis is a viral infection, such as those that cause influenza and the common cold. These are easily spread among children, and most children average six colds per year. Occasionally, acute bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection. 

In either case, bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes become inflamed and start producing mucus. Acute bronchitis is contagious because it's caused by a viral or bacterial infection. You should take precautions to keep your child from spreading it to others. Your child may also be more prone to developing acute bronchitis if they have the following:

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When to see the doctor for bronchitis in children

Most cases of acute bronchitis can be treated at your home. Antibiotics do not usually help bronchitis. However, you should take your child to the pediatrician for any of the following symptoms: 

Diagnosis for bronchitis in children

Your child's doctor will probably be able to diagnose acute bronchitis by listening to their symptoms and doing a physical exam. Blood tests are not used to diagnose bronchitis, but your child's doctor may order one if they think there is another infection present. If your child has a fever, the doctor may order a chest x-ray to make sure your child doesn't have pneumonia. Additionally, your child's doctor may test a sample of sputum, the mucus that your child coughs up, to see if there is another type of infection. 

Treatments for bronchitis in children

Acute bronchitis will likely improve without medication. Most treatments focus on relieving the symptoms. You can help your child feel better by ensuring that they: 

  • Get lots of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially warm liquids such as tea 
  • Use saline nasal sprays
  • Take honey to help with cough, but do not give honey to babies under one year of age
  • Use lozenges to help with a sore throat, but do not give to children under the age of four 
  • Take over-the-counter pain medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Use a humidifier or inhale steam from a shower

Talk to your child's pediatrician before you give them any over-the-counter cough or cold medicines. These are not recommended at all for children under the age of 4. They should be provided only with a doctor's recommendation for children ages 4 to 6. Don't give your child antihistamines if they have bronchitis unless the pediatrician recommends it. Antihistamines will dry mucus out and can actually make a cough worse. Don't give children under the age of 19 aspirin in any form. Aspirin can cause Reye Syndrome, a serious disorder, in children and adolescents.

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Medically Reviewed on 1/21/2021
References
American Family Physician: "Acute Bronchitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis)."

Cedars Sinai: "Acute Bronchitis in Children."

Medline Plus: "Acute Bronchitis."

Merck Manual: "Acute Bronchitis."

National Heart Lung and Blood Institute: "Pneumonia."