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

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.

Page last reviewed: 14/07/2014

Next review due: 14/07/2016