Bronchitis - Symptoms 

Symptoms of bronchitis 

The main symptom of bronchitis is a hacking cough. It is likely that your cough will bring up thick yellow-grey mucus (phlegm), although this does not always happen.

Other symptoms of bronchitis are similar to those of other infections, such as the common cold or sinusitis, and may include:

  • sore throat
  • headache
  • runny or blocked nose
  • aches and pains
  • tiredness

If you have bronchitis, your cough may last for several weeks after other symptoms have gone. You may also find that the continual coughing makes your chest and stomach muscles sore.

Some people may experience shortness of breath or wheezing, due to inflamed airways. However, this is more common with long-term (chronic) bronchitis.

Long-term (chronic) bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis is often known as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

The symptoms of COPD can include:

  • wheezing
  • increasing breathlessness when exercising or moving around
  • a persistent cough that brings up mucus (phlegm)
  • frequent chest infections

The symptoms are often worse in the winter, and it is common to have two or more flare-ups a year. A flare-up is when your symptoms are particularly bad.

When to see your GP

See your GP as soon as possible if:

  • your cough is very severe or lasts longer than three weeks
  • you have a constant fever (a temperature of 38°C – 100.4°F – or above) for more than three days  this may be a sign of flu or a more serious condition, such as pneumonia
  • you cough up mucus streaked with blood
  • you develop rapid breathing (more than 30 breaths a minute) or chest pains
  • you become drowsy or confused
  • you have had repeated bouts of bronchitis

You should also contact your GP if you have an underlying heart or lung condition, such as:

  • asthma
  • heart failure  weakness in the heart that leads to fluid in your lungs
  • emphysema  damage to the small airways in your lungs

Page last reviewed: 14/07/2014

Next review due: 14/07/2016


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

maddylou said on 23 April 2012

I've had chronic catarrh for about 18 years, and after much investigation, conclude that I'm either allergic to my cat or dust mites. Whenever I catch a cold, the effects are quite serious - always leading to the kind of cough, whereby your face turns beetroot & eyes bulge from their sockets, and you're speechless for at least a minute. This can go on for weeks. I found that daily1000mg effervesc. Vit C. wards off colds. Went all winter without one. Ran out of Vit. C., early April, but thought summer is a'cumen in, so didn't replenish supplies. One week later, I started such a humdinger of a cold, that I could swear it was cold and flu combined. Anyone know if this is possible? A hacking cough appeared straight away, and I'm actually sick, if I eat anything. Have now been in bed for a week. Feel too ill to do much else. Seeing the doc. this eve, as feel it may now be bronchitis.
To Josie (Oct 2010) Really hope you're better now. What can smokers (of all varieties) do, when hit with a chest infection? I don't smoke, as never liked the taste, but maybe with sensitive respiratory areas, it's necessary to find alternatives? Anyway. Hope that you're sorted OK.

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CorfeMullen said on 31 January 2012

I found this advice very helpful, as it is difficult to decide how long to be patient for. My husband has now been running a temperature for 7 days, and I only saw a GP yesterday. He is now on strong antibiotics.

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bluefish said on 17 December 2010

I used to have problems with chest infections and asthma as a teenager. I did lots of asthma tests with the peak flow meter, used inhalers and tried to keep a diary, but nothing much helped. When I was 20, I went to a GP who specialises in allergies who did a basic allergy test and I discovered I am allergic to duck down. I had to completely replace my pillow and duvet, but my symptoms improved. I now check pillows, cushions, coats, sofas, sleeping bags wherever I go - I can tell by feeling if they contain 'ducks'. An anti-hisitimine tablet helps if I know I'm going to visit friends or family who have duck down somewhere in the house.

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josie1980 said on 15 October 2010

A few months ago i was told by the doctor that i have the start of bronchitis and was told to stop smoking. i was too ashamed to tell my GP that aswell as smoking cigarettes i was a regular cannabis user. ie skunk. i was experiencing a horrible taste seeping from my throat and had a continuous chest infection. my chest went back to normal and i continued to smoke as normal untill a few days ago i have been experiencing chest pains tickely cough through the night and now the nape of my neck is sore and im getting pain in my back, shoulders and arms, is this somthing to be concerned about., i am so worried.x

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willywonka said on 14 May 2010

I've been coughing and wheezing for 9 years. Take codydramol and mefenamic acid for another condition. When i forget these i wheeze, my nose runs and i bring up mucus. mucus is problem when exerting myself along with breathlessness. Inhalers don't work. Nurse thinks I have asthma but lung capacity is normal to good for my age. I live near open stone quarry,hence much dust, house dusty too for this reason. Saw a doc 4 weeks ago who said I'd got sinusitis. told her of my 9 years cough and she wasn't interested. So no better off but still got this problem. Help! Where do I go now? What do I do, and who do I ask to see? I can't sleep at night for coughing.

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creaghwyn said on 31 March 2010

Thas true, For about a year they told me I had asthma yet the inhaler didnt work! I knew it wasn't because my sister has asthma. The doctor only said it was bronchitus yesterday!!

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theboy9690 said on 13 November 2009

they normaly think it is asma and prescrib anti biotitcs and a inhaler
so best to make sure question the gp to make sure and maybe suggest it might be broncitis

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If you cough most days for at least three months...

Some people, particularly smokers, may cough all the time without realising that they have a long-term condition. If you cough most days, for at least three months, see your GP, because you may have chronic bronchitis.

Useful links

Coughing up blood

Read about causes of blood in your phlegm, and what you should do