Bronchitis Clinical Presentation

Updated: Mar 24, 2021
  • Author: Jazeela Fayyaz, DO; Chief Editor: Zab Mosenifar, MD, FACP, FCCP  more...
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Obtain a complete history, including information on exposure to toxic substances and smoking. Patients with chronic bronchitis are often overweight and cyanotic. Initially, cough is present in the winter months. Over the years, the cough progresses from hibernal to perennial, and mucopurulent relapses increase in frequency, the duration and severity of which increase to the point of exertional dyspnea.

Cough is the most commonly observed symptom. It begins early in the course of many acute respiratory tract infections and becomes more prominent as the disease progresses. Acute bronchitis may be indistinguishable from an upper respiratory tract infection during the first few days, though cough lasting greater than 5 days may suggest acute bronchitis. [7]

In patients with acute bronchitis, cough generally lasts from 10-20 days. Sputum production is reported in approximately half the patients in whom cough occurred. Sputum may be clear, yellow, green, or even blood-tinged. Purulent sputum is reported in 50% of persons with acute bronchitis. Changes in sputum color are due to peroxidase released by leukocytes in sputum; therefore, color alone cannot be considered indicative of bacterial infection.

Fever is a relatively unusual sign and, when accompanied by cough, suggests either influenza or pneumonia. Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are rare. Severe cases may cause general malaise and chest pain. With severe tracheal involvement, symptoms include burning, substernal chest pain associated with respiration, and coughing.

Dyspnea and cyanosis are not observed in adults unless the patient has underlying chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or another condition that impairs lung function.

Other symptoms of acute bronchitis include the following:

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Headache

  • Muscle aches

  • Extreme fatigue


Physical Examination

The physical examination findings in acute bronchitis can vary from normal-to-pharyngeal erythema, localized lymphadenopathy, and rhinorrhea to coarse rhonchi and wheezes that change in location and intensity after a deep and productive cough.

Diffuse wheezes, high-pitched continuous sounds, and the use of accessory muscles can be observed in severe cases. Occasionally, diffuse diminution of air intake or inspiratory stridor occurs; these findings indicate obstruction of a major bronchi or the trachea, which requires sequentially vigorous coughing, suctioning, and, possibly, intubation or even tracheostomy.

Sustained heave along the left sternal border indicates right ventricular hypertrophy secondary to chronic bronchitis. Clubbing on the digits and peripheral cyanosis indicate cystic fibrosis. Bullous myringitis may suggest mycoplasmal pneumonia. Conjunctivitis, adenopathy, and rhinorrhea suggest adenovirus infection.



Complications occur in approximately 10% of patients with acute bronchitis and include the following:

  • Bacterial superinfection

  • Pneumonia develops in about 5% of patients with bronchitis (incidence of subsequent pneumonia, unaffected by antibiotic treatment)

  • Chronic bronchitis may develop with repeated episodes of acute bronchitis

  • Reactive airway disease can occur as a result of acute bronchitis

  • Hemoptysis