How Long Does Bronchitis Last?

Raleigh Bronchitis is a condition characterized by inflammation and irritation to the linings of the bronchial tubes (the tubes that carry air to and from the lungs).  While more commonly affecting adults, children can develop bronchitis as well.  Bronchitis can be acute or chronic so which type a patient has, ultimately determines how long the illness will last.  In this discussion, we will evaluate the symptoms of acute and chronic bronchitis as well as their related recovery times. Heritage has qualified medical providers that work with you to help determine the type of bronchitis you have.

Defining Acute vs Chronic Bronchitis

Acute:  More common, less severe, and temporary; symptoms typically present 3-4 days after an upper respiratory infection (viral infection) and last a week or two weeks.  Fewer than 10% of cases are caused by bacteria.  While most people will not have permanent breathing problems as a result, those with weakened immune systems or underlying respiratory disease (asthma) are at a higher risk for complications. Those with chronic medical problems or compromised immune systems may need antibiotic therapy.

Chronic:  Less common but more severe and can be permanent; symptoms develop over time and while severity of symptoms may vary, they never go away completely.  Doctors define chronic bronchitis as having a cough, that produces mucus, lasting for a minimum of three months with recurring bouts occurring a minimum of two consecutive years.  Cigarette smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis because it damages the airways leading to excessive mucus production in the lungs that can obstruct airflow. Unlike with acute bronchitis, permanent lung damage or decreased function is associated with chronic bronchitis. Heritage provides several smoking cessation options to help patients who feel they are ready to quit.


Both acute and chronic bronchitis have similar symptoms.  Typical symptoms include:

  • Cough (can linger after other symptoms subside)
  • Fatigue
  • Production of sputum (mucus) that can be yellow, green, grey, white, or clear and rarely, may have blood streaks
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild, low grade fever
  • Chills
  • Chest pressure, congestion, or tightness

With acute bronchitis, symptoms generally come on suddenly and patients may also experience symptoms typical of a common cold such as body aches or headaches.  Symptoms of chronic bronchitis tend to gradually appear and get worse over time.  Shortness of breath and frequent respiratory infections are also associated with chronic bronchitis.

Based on The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, a person should see a qualified medical professional if they have:

  • Symptoms lasting longer than 3 weeks
  • Fever of 4°F or higher
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty breathing or severe shortness of breath
  • Blue skin or nails
  • Cough producing bloody mucus
  • Repeated or frequent bouts


As previously mentioned, the duration of bronchitis symptoms depends on if the condition is acute or chronic.

Acute Bronchitis:  Generally lasts 10 to 14 days however symptoms may continue for as long as 3 weeks in certain cases.  Often occurs suddenly in conjunction with another viral infection and because symptoms are generally manageable.  Should symptoms persist or become severe, seeking assistance at Heritage is recommended.

Chronic Bronchitis:  As the name suggests, duration of the condition is long.  Symptoms may vary in severity, but the disease will not go away.  Symptoms may be like those associated with acute bronchitis but will be much longer in duration.  But unlike acute bronchitis that typically resolves on its own, chronic bronchitis patients will likely need treatment from one of our providers specially trained to treat this condition.

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