Health Library
Bronchitis in Children

What is Acute Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the large breathing tubes (airways), called bronchi, causing increased production of mucus and other changes. Although there are several different types of bronchitis, the two most common are acute and chronic (primarily affects adults).

Acute bronchitis is the inflammation of mucus membranes of the bronchial tubes.

Causes of Acute Bronchitis


Acute bronchitis is usually caused by infectious agents such as bacteria or viruses. It may also be caused by physical or chemical agents minus; dusts, allergens, strong fumes, and those from chemical cleaning compounds, or tobacco smoke. (Acute asthmatic bronchitis may happen as the result of an asthma attack, or it may be the cause of an asthma attack.)

In children, the most common cause of bronchitis is a virus, although in children over 6 years of age, it can be caused by bacteria. Acute bronchitis is usually a mild condition. Acute bronchitis may follow the common cold or other viral infections in the upper respiratory tract. It may also occur in children with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or those with enlarged tonsils and adenoids. Pneumonia is a complication that can follow bronchitis.

Signs and Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

Each child may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Runny nose, usually before a cough starts
  • Malaise (an overall body discomfort or not feeling well )
  • Chills
  • Slight fever
  • Back and muscle pain
  • Sore throat

In the earlier stages of the condition, children may have a dry, non-productive cough which progresses later to a mucus-filled cough. Younger children may have some vomiting or gagging with the cough. The symptoms of bronchitis usually last seven to 14 days, but may also persist for three to four weeks.

The symptoms of acute bronchitis may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Talk with your child's physician for a diagnosis.

Diagnosis of Acute Bronchitis

Bronchitis is usually diagnosed solely on the history and physical examination of the child. Many tests may be ordered to rule out other diseases, such as pneumonia or asthma. In addition, the following tests may be ordered to help confirm diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray
  • Blood tests
  • Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. A small sensor (like a bandage) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless, and the red light does not get hot.
  • Saliva or spit cultures

Treatment for Acute Bronchitis

Your child's doctor will decide the treatment for acute bronchitis based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • Extent of the condition
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • Expectations for the course of the condition
  • Your opinion or preference

In many cases, antibiotic treatment is not needed to treat acute bronchitis, since most of the infections are caused by viruses. Even children who have been coughing for longer than eight to 10 days usually do not need antibiotics. Most of the treatment is supportive of the symptoms your child may have, and may include:

  • A pain medication, such as acetaminophen (for fever and discomfort)
  • Cough medicine
  • Increased fluid intake
  • A cool mist humidifier in the room may help.

Antihistamines (benadryl/zyrtec, etc.) should be avoided, in most cases, because they dry up the secretions and can make the cough worse.

Always consult your child's physician for more information.

Last Updated 04/2022

Reviewed By Barbara Behr, RNII, and Jessica Cripe, RN1

Visiting Cincinnati Childrens.

Cincinnati Children’s has primary care services at locations throughout Greater Cincinnati.