What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi (the air passages that extend from the windpipe into the lungs) which may be caused by viruses, mycoplasma, bacteria, smoking or inhalation of chemical pollutants or dust. The cells that line the bronchi have tiny hairs (cilia) that trap and eliminate pollutants. When these cells become overly irritated, they stop functioning. Consequently, the air passages become clogged by debris, and irritation increases. In response, a heavy secretion of mucous develops, which causes the characteristic cough of bronchitis.

Brief bouts of acute bronchitis may evolve from a severe cold or flu, but may also begin without having had an infection. If you have underlying asthma, bronchitis may precipitate an asthma attack. Even if you have no history of asthma, bronchitis may trigger some asthma-like symptoms, such as wheezing and shortness of breath. Smoking is frequently associated with chronic bronchitis.

What are the symptoms of bronchitis?

Symptoms may include:

  • a deep cough that produces yellowish or greenish phlegm
  • pain behind the breastbone when you breathe deeply or cough
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness
  • low-grade fever or chills
  • headache
  • sore muscles
  • fatigue

What is the treatment for bronchitis?

  • Stop smoking! Click here for tips on quitting or cutting back on your smoking.
  • Drink large amounts of fluids to help loosen up chest mucous and move it out of your body.
  • If your room is dry, using a humidifier may help.
  • Try to get enough rest and sleep. Your body needs to rest to help fight the infection.
  • Guaifenesin (in plain Robitussin) is an expectorant which may help.
  • Dextromethorphan (in Robitussin DM) is an effective cough suppressant which may be helpful to deal with a dry, hacking, “non-productive” cough.
  • If antibiotics are prescribed by your medical provider, be sure to take all of the medication even if you feel better before you finish the medication. You may feel better before the infection is really gone, and stopping the medication will only leave the infection in your body.
  • If a bronchodilating inhaler or pills are prescribed by your medical provider to open the air passages, be sure to follow the instructions you are given.
  • It is important to return to Health Services or to call your provider if your symptoms become worse, if you develop a high fever (101°F or higher), or if you do not begin to improve within a few days. Symptoms usually last about 10 days.
  • Contact your provider if at any point you feel you are too ill to care for yourself.

Can I make an appointment at Health Services?

If you are a Brown student and you are concerned about bronchitis, you can make a confidential appointment at Health Services by calling 401.863-3953.  Health Services provides a range of services including general health care, STI testing, inpatient services and emergency medical care. You can request a medical provider by gender or by name. We are located at 13 Brown Street on the corner of Brown and Charlesfield Streets.

Links you can use

To learn more about bronchitis, you can visit


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Disclaimer: BWell Health Promotion is part of Health Services at Brown University. Health Promotion maintains this site as a resource for Brown students. This site is not intended to replace consultation with your medical providers. No site can replace real conversation. Health Promotion offers no endorsement of and assumes no liability for the currency, accuracy, or availability of the information on the sites we link to or the care provided by the resources listed. Health Services staff are available to treat and give medical advice to Brown University students only. If you are not a Brown student, but are in need of medical assistance please call your own health care provider or in case of an emergency, dial 911. Please contact us if you have comments, questions or suggestions.