Rattling in Chest, Cough & 9 More Symptoms of Bronchitis to Know

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We’ve all heard of bronchitis—and we’ve all *heard* bronchitis. Bronchitis symptoms are pretty distinct: The rattling in your chest. The wheezing. The lingering congestion and mucus. When these symptoms hit, you probably have a feeling that it’s something more than a common cold.

Not just any run-of-the-mill, tickle-in-the-throat cough, bronchitis is a respiratory condition in which the lining of your bronchial tubes become inflamed, the Mayo Clinic explains. These tubes are especially important because they carry air both to and from your lungs, which is why bronchitis causes coughing, wheezing, and other symptoms that may affect your ability to breathe normally. Cue the rattling in chest noises.

What causes bronchitis?

Bronchitis is usually brought on by a viral infection, like a cold or the flu, piling on top of an already miserable state of affairs. In fact, research suggests that 85 to 95 percent of acute bronchitis cases are caused by viruses that make their way into the respiratory system.

While the underlying virus is almost always contagious, bronchitis itself is not. What’s more, not everyone is going to get it, or get it every time they are sick. “These viruses do not necessarily cause bronchitis in all hosts,” Kanao Otsu, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine in the division of allergy and immunology at National Jewish Health, tells SELF. If two people have the same initial illness, one may end up with bronchitis while the other gets off scot-free.

“Having an underlying lung disease such as asthma, cigarette smoke exposure, work exposures to certain chemicals and irritants, can all increase one’s risk for developing acute bronchitis,” Dr. Otsu says.

Here are the most common bronchitis symptoms to look out for.

Rattling in chest and raspy cough

A cough that’s caused by bronchitis is often accompanied by mucus in your chest (we’ll get to that next), which may or may not come up when you cough (when it does, it’s called a “productive” cough). That can cause a sensation of rattling deep in your chest when you breathe in or cough.

Mucus

The color of the mucus can vary from clear to yellow or green, depending on what infection or virus you’ve got. Once the virus is gone and the mucus dissipates, the lingering cough may become dry.

Wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness

“[The cough] may also be associated with chest tightness and wheezing, which can persist for five to six weeks,” Dr. Otsu adds. Wheezing is when your breaths make a whistling or rattling sound because your airways are blocked–it’s common in those with asthma. When your breathing is a bit labored, you may also experience shortness of breath.”

Sore throat

Coughing as much as you do when you have bronchitis can make your throat irritated and sore, Dr. Otsu says.

Low fever, chills, fatigue, or headache

Making matters a bit more complicated is the fact that bronchitis usually appears on top of the symptoms of whatever viral illness you originally had. So you may experience things like a fever and headache as well (you can blame the flu for that, not the bronchitis).

How is bronchitis diagnosed?

In many cases, your doctor can diagnose bronchitis based on the presence of another illness (which is why keeping track of the progression of your symptoms is so important) and by listening to your lungs while you breathe, the Mayo Clinic says.

But, to rule out other possible illnesses, your doctor might also recommend some specific tests. That could include undergoing a chest X-ray, a test of your mucus for signs of a bacterial infection or allergy, or a test of your lung function to see if you might actually have another condition (like asthma or emphysema).

What does treatment for bronchitis look like?

Most cases of bronchitis stem from viral illnesses, which unfortunately cannot be treated with antibiotics. So, unless your doctor suspects your bronchitis developed from a bacterial illness, you’ll probably have to wait it out until it clears from your system on its own without specialized treatment. And many cases of bronchitis do clear up on their own within a few weeks, the Mayo Clinic explains.

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