Acute bronchitis is a common reason patients head to the pharmacy in the winter to seek OTC symptom relief.

Chest colds are often accompanied by a nagging cough that produces mucus, chest soreness, fatigue, mild headaches, mild body aches, fever, watery eyes, and a sore throat.

Pharmacists can remind patients with acute bronchitis that antibiotics are rarely ever needed to treat the condition. Still, patients should seek medical attention if they have a fever higher than 100.4°F, a cough with thick or bloody mucus, trouble breathing, repeated incidence of bronchitis, or symptoms that last more than 3 weeks.

Pharmacists can also help patients find symptomatic relief in the OTC aisle, and then double check that selected products are appropriate for a patient’s age.

Tips for acute bronchitis prevention include smoking cessation and avoidance of second-hand smoke, good hand hygiene, and avoidance of infected individuals. Patients who have a weak immune system may also be prone to acute bronchitis.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) details the following 4 common causes of chest colds.

1. Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)

The CDC describes RSV as an infection of the lungs and breathing passages that is often experienced in healthy people as a mild cold, especially in the fall, winter, and spring.  

Healthy people can typically recover in 1 to 2 weeks, but for infants and older adults, infections can be more serious. Almost all children will be infected with RSV by the time they turn 2, and it is the most common cause of bronchitis and pneumonia in children aged 1 year or older.

Between 25% to 40% of infants will have signs of bronchitis or pneumonia with an RSV infection, and less than 2% will require hospitalization. Infants who require hospitalization are typically aged 6 months or older.

In addition, very young infants can continue to spread the virus for up to 3 weeks.

2. Adenovirus

Adenoviruses can be spread through close personal like touching or shaking hands, coughing and/or sneezing, or touching objects or surfaces with adenoviruses on them and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

Some adenoviruses are spread through an infected person’s stool, like when changing a diaper. Another way, albeit less common, is through water in swimming pools.

There is no specific treatment for adenovirus infection, but its spread can be prevented by staying home from work when sick and avoiding close with an infected individual.

It is possible for an adenovirus to shed, so even if a patient does not exhibit any symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others.

3. Influenza

Influenza types A and B cause disease epidemics almost every year, while influenza type C usually causes more mild respiratory illnesses. These viruses are constantly changing in 2 ways: antigenic drift and antigenic shift.

Antigenic drift causes small changes in the genes of the virus, which can eventually result in viruses that are antigenically different.

Antigenic shift is a sudden major change in the influenza A virus. The CDC noted that this happened in 2009 when a new H1N1 virus emerged and caused a pandemic.

4. Human Parainfluenza Viruses (HPIVs)

HPIVs are different from influenza viruses in that they are common in the spring, summer, and fall, but not winter.

HPIV-3 is linked with bronchitis more so than HPIV-1, 2, or 4. Symptoms include runny nose, fever, and cough.

The flu vaccine does not protect against HPIVs, and infection can be spread through coughing and/or sneezing, close personal such as touching or shaking hands, or touching objects with viruses on them and then touching the mouth, nose, or eyes.

While HPIVs are typically not serious, they can lead to croup or pneumonia in some cases.