Bronchitis is an infection or inflammation of the bronchi, which are the largest airways of the lungs. These airways have a protective mechanism built into them where they produce mucus, this is meant to trap anything that is not welcome in the airways and could be harmful to the lungs. When someone has bronchitis, something has irritated the airways, causing increased production of mucus. This leads to the body trying to get rid of the mucus, and causes a productive cough. Bronchitis can be short term (acute) and longer term (chronic). Acute bronchitis lasts around three weeks and is commonly caused by a viral infection. Chronic bronchitis is defined as a daily productive cough that lasts for three months of the year, for at least two years in a row. Chronic bronchitis is one condition, along with another called emphysema, make up a diagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). These are long-term lung conditions, usually related to damage from decades-long smoking or repeated exposure to toxic substances at work, and they require lifelong management and treatment.
Acute bronchitis can be caused by infections that may be contagious, but the condition itself is not contagious.
If your cough is a chesty cough, where you're bringing up mucus or it sounds rattly or loose, or a dry tickly cough, there are different treatments we would recommend trying. For chesty coughs, treatment with a cough mixture containing guaifenesin, or herbal alternatives containing marshmallow and thyme extract may help to help loosen and expel excess mucus to clear the chest. For a dry tickly cough at the back of the throat that is particularly troublesome and frequent, then a product such as simple linctus can help. It works by coating the back of the throat to relieve the sensation to cough, and does not generally cause drowsiness. Another option is to use a cough suppressant such as pholcodine linctus, or medication containing dextromethorphan which can help to reduce the frequency of cough. If you have asthma or other lung conditions then you should ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice, as some medications could make the chest tighter, or make the asthma or wheeziness worse. Paracetamol can be used to relieve mild fever and pain.
If you have any worrying symptoms, such as shortness of breath, chest pain, fever or feeling severely unwell then you should seek urgent medical advice. If you have had a cough for more than three weeks, you should book an appointment to discuss this with your doctor. Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and examine you, and come up with the best next steps.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, you may be fit for work.