Most people with acute bronchitis have infections that can be dealt with by their immune system. They will usually only need treatment for the symptoms of bronchitis. Bronchitis is most often caused by a virus, so antibiotics won’t help, particularly if you are otherwise healthy with a normal immune system. Antibiotics do not kill viruses. There are ways you can relieve the symptoms of bronchitis (e.g. headache, aches, pains and fever), and some over-the-counter medicines that you can take.
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See your health professional if your symptoms change or become worse, as pneumonia is a common complication of bronchitis.
You can relieve your symptoms by:
You can help soothe a sore throat by:
There are over-the-counter medicines you can take to help manage the symptoms of bronchitis. These include:
Fevers are common in young children, especially if they have a chest infection or after a vaccination. A fever (a temperature of 38.5°C or higher) doesn’t necessarily mean you or your child has a serious illness. In fact, a fever helps the body's immune system to fight infection.
Ask your pharmacist or doctor for advice about the safest medicine for you or your child, and always read the label on your medicine.
Intranasal decongestants can help to relieve a blocked nose, but should not be used for more than 4 or 5 consecutive days to avoid rebound nasal congestion.
Medicated nasal decongestants must not be used in babies younger than 6 months, as rebound congestion may cause breathing difficulty. Decongestants containing pseudoephedrine, phenylephrine, oxymetazoline or xylometazoline must not be used in children younger than 6 years. Use salt water (saline) nasal sprays or drops instead of a nasal decongestant for these children. Before using any medicine, check with a doctor or pharmacist about the safest one for you or your child. Always read the information on the label and the consumer medicine information (CMI) leaflet for your medicine if available.
See your health professional if you notice a change in your symptoms or they become worse, as pneumonia is a common complication of bronchitis.
Cough, and combination ‘cough and cold’, medicines are available and may relieve your symptoms, but there is not enough information from good quality clinical trials proving their effectiveness, particularly in children. Cough medicines can also sometimes cause unwanted side effects such as drowsiness, nausea, vomiting and constipation. They are not recommended for use in children under 2 years.
Before using any medicine, check with a doctor or pharmacist about the safest one for you or your child. Always read the information on the label and the consumer medicine information (CMI) for your medicine (if available).
It’s OK to ask questions
If you have questions about your symptoms or the medicines managing your symptoms, speak with your health professional.
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Adapted from NPS MedicineWise (2012), Medicines and treatments for bronchitis. Reasonable care is taken to provide accurate information at the time of creation. This information is not intended as a substitute for medical advice and should not be exclusively relied on to manage or diagnose a medical condition. NPS MedicineWise and Choosing Wisely New Zealand do not assume any responsibility or liability arising from any error or omission or from reliance on any information in this resource.
This article is part of our content on Choosing Wisely, a campaign encouraging a change in thinking by health professionals and consumers to avoid unnecessary medical intervention.