Bronchitis Vs Asthma: Key Differences

Bronchitis Vs Asthma

Bronchitis vs Asthma: Do you have Asthma or bronchitis? Which is more dangerous: Asthma or Bronchitis?

If you have these questions in mind, keep reading. We’ll try our best not to waste your time here.

Bronchitis Vs Asthma: Key points

  • Both Asthma and bronchitis are inflammatory conditions.


  • Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by an infection or environmental pollutant or irritant.
  • Chronic bronchitis is usually caused by persistent exposure to smoke (cigarette or second-hand smoke) and the condition has episodic flares but does not completely resolve.
  • If bronchitis recurs, it might indicate chronic bronchitis, requiring medical attention as it is a component of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Key symptoms of bronchitis include a constant cough that produces mucus, fatigue, a build-up of mucus that changes color, trouble breathing, and discomfort in the chest.


  • Asthma is a reversible airflow obstruction in patients who are allergic to certain substances in the air such as pollen, dust, perfume, etc. Some individuals may have non-allergic asthma such as those with obesity.
  • Asthma can manifest in early childhood. Individuals may report frequent chest infections or intermittent shortness of breath, tightness, and wheezing.
  • Some individuals develop flu, runny nose, and post-nasal drip during childhood or early adulthood. Later with time, they develop chest tightness and wheezing.

Asthma vs Bronchitis:

  • Asthma is characterized by wheezing, dry coughs, and sudden shortness of breath during attacks.
  • In contrast, bronchitis involves coughing with mucus, chest heaviness, and possible fever, distinguishing the two respiratory conditions.
  • In cases where asthma and bronchitis coexist, seeking medical advice is essential for a clear diagnosis and customized treatment when symptoms overlap.
  • A history of wheezing and coughing is more likely associated with asthma while cough, phlegm production, and fever are associated with bronchitis. However, bronchitis and asthma can be difficult to differentiate based on just symptoms.
  • Two out of every three people who had bronchitis at least twice in the previous five years had asthma [ref].

asthma vs bronchitis



Symptoms of Bronchitis: Acute Vs Chronic

Bronchitis is an inflammatory disorder affecting the bronchi and bronchioles. The lungs are spared, however, with prolonged uncontrolled bronchitis, individuals may have increased lung volumes and air trapping in their lungs.

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts a few days to a few weeks. Individuals with chronic bronchitis have persistent or recurring symptoms of cough and phlegm production with periods of relief for a few days or weeks.

Acute bronchitis is commonly induced by viral infections like the common cold or flu, which cause sudden inflammation of the bronchial tubes.

Patients with acute bronchitis cough up thicker and discolored phlegm, sometimes with difficulty. Although the cough may persist for weeks, acute bronchitis, commonly known as a chest cold, typically improves in a week to ten days with no long-term consequences.

Chronic bronchitis is a serious condition. There is persistent irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, frequently brought on by smoking.

On the other hand, if you get bronchitis frequently, you might have chronic bronchitis, which calls for medical intervention.

Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions classified as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [ref].

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that chronic lower respiratory diseases, including COPD, were the third most common cause of death in the United States in 2014 [ref].

Patients with bronchitis are also at risk of developing frequent chest infections such as pneumonia. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.

Patients with pneumonia are usually very sick and have a high-grade fever (38 degrees or higher), rapid breathing, and an increased heart rate.


Signs and symptoms of Bronchitis:

The following are the signs and symptoms you may experience if you have bronchitis:

  • Coughing:

This is a common sign. Acute bronchitis coughs are often dry and irritating at first but can eventually produce mucus. The persistent coughing is the body’s attempt to clear the airways.

  • Fatigue:

Generalized tiredness and low energy are two of the most common bronchitis symptoms. Fatigue may result from the body’s immunological reaction as well as the effort needed to cough continuously.

  • Mucus Production:

It is typical to experience increased mucus production. The color of the mucus can change from clear to white, yellowish-gray, or green. The color shift could indicate inflammation or infection [ref].

  • Breathing Difficulty:

People with bronchitis may experience shortness of breath, especially during physical activities or exertion. Inflammation in the airways can cause a sense of chest tightness.

  • Fever:

While not always present, individuals with acute bronchitis may develop a low-grade fever. This is the body’s natural response to infection.

  • Chest Discomfort:

A sensation of discomfort or pressure in the chest can be experienced by some individuals dealing with bronchitis. This discomfort often results from the increased collection of mucus in the airways or the inflammation present.

  • Sore Throat:

If you are facing acute bronchitis, the inflammation might extend its reach to your throat, leading to a sore throat. This, in turn, brings along feelings of irritation and general discomfort.

  • Body Aches:

Comparable to symptoms experienced during the flu, bronchitis has the potential to induce body aches and pains. These discomforts contribute to an overall feeling of being under the weather.

allergic bronchitis vs asthma fatigue exercise intolerance



Signs and Symptoms of Asthma:

Asthma is an exaggerated response of the airways to certain stimuli such as dust, pollen, perfumes, peanuts, cold air, etc.

Exposure to these stimuli results in a rapid airway narrowing resulting in chest tightness, shortness of breath, wheezing, and cough.

In addition, individuals may develop symptoms of asthma as a result of stimuli originating from their own bodies such as acid reflux or GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), emotions, or even obesity.

There is inflammation following exposure to these stimuli, however, because the condition is totally reversible in most patients, there are minimal long-term consequences, unlike patients with chronic bronchitis or COPD.

Symptoms of Asthm are very variable but the following are the hallmarks of the disease:

  • Cough
  • Wheezing
  • Breathlessness
  • Chest tightness

Cough in patients with Asthma is usually dry or associated with a scanty amount of sputum. Unlike patients with bronchitis, phlegm is not typically produced or scanty and mucoid.

Wheezing are whistling sound in the chest. They may be present at rest, after exertion, or even after bouts of cough.

Cough and wheezing are typically more marked in the early or late hours of the day and may be slightly relieved during the daytime.

Cough in patients with bronchitis does not have marked day-night variations.

Breathlessness in both asthma and bronchitis depends on the severity of the disease. Both conditions may present with severe breathlessness. Milder cases may present with fatigue and exercise intolerance only.


How to differentiate between Asthma Vs Bronchitis based on symptoms:

Asthma and bronchitis are both respiratory conditions that can share similar symptoms, but they have different characteristics. They can be told apart by looking at specific signs.

Bronchitis vs Asthma: Similarities

The symptoms of bronchitis and asthma are similar, which can be confusing. Both can cause you to cough a lot, have difficulty breathing, and experience a heavy sensation in your chest.

They may also cause you to cough up mucus. Although whistling is a common feature of asthma, severe bronchitis can also cause wheezing.

Bronchitis vs Asthma: Differences

Asthma coughs are often dry and stick around, especially at night. Shortness of breath in asthma can happen suddenly, like during an attack triggered by things like allergies or exercise. Asthma also gets better with medicines that open up the airways [ref].

On the other hand, bronchitis means a lot of coughing with slimy stuff called mucus, and your chest might feel heavy.

Sometimes, you might also have a bit of fever, especially if it is acute bronchitis. The good news is that acute bronchitis typically clears up on its own in a matter of weeks. But, if it’s chronic bronchitis, it sticks around for a long time.

Occasionally, people can have both asthma and bronchitis together, also called asthmatic bronchitis. If asthma and bronchitis can happen together, visiting a doctor is crucial to get the right diagnosis and treatment based on your symptoms.

chronic bronchitis vs asthma



Which is more dangerous: Asthma or Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is mostly caused by infections and is a serious problem in individuals who have low immunity.

In immunocompromised individuals, bronchitis can rapidly lead to sepsis, shock, respiratory failure, and death.

Thus, timely identifying their symptoms and promptly treating them is essential.

Asthma usually runs a milder case in most individuals. However, severe uncontrolled asthma or status asthmaticus is a severe form of asthma that leads to respiratory failure and patients may need ventilatory support.

In addition, patients with asthma can develop bronchitis. These patients may not improve with the typical inhalational bronchodilators.

Antibiotics, chest physiotherapy, and mucolytic medications may be required in addition to bronchodilators and corticosteroids.

Chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition than asthma as people often have persistent airway obstruction and mucous production.

Because of long-standing hypoxemia, individuals with chronic bronchitis usually develop a strain on the right heart resulting in pulmonary hypertension and right heart failure.

Once pulmonary hypertension develops, the condition runs a more serious course of illness than asthma.

In addition, people with chronic bronchitis, especially those who develop pulmonary hypertension are more likely to require long-term oxygen compared to individuals with asthma.

Thus, untreated chronic bronchitis is more dangerous than asthma.

asthma vs bronchitis which is more dangerous



Summarizing Bronchitis Vs Asthma:

Bronchitis can make you cough a lot, feel tired, and have trouble breathing.

There are two types: acute (usually from a cold, which gets better in a few weeks) and chronic (lasting a long time, often from smoking). It might be chronic if you cough a lot and get it often.

Asthma is a little different—it causes you to wheeze and have difficulty breathing unexpectedly. If you have both asthma and bronchitis, seeing a doctor is important for the right treatment.

Remember, if you smoke or have continued symptoms, it is especially important to get medical help. Doctors can figure out what is going on and help you feel better.

Table summarizing Bronchitis vs Asthma:




CoughMay be presentAlways present
BreathlessnessPresentMay be present (chronic bronchitis)
PhlegmScanty (mucoid) or absentAlways present
WheezingPresentMay be present
AntibioticsNot requiredMay Require
ImmunomodulatorsRequired in severe casesNot required
Pulmonary hypertensionNot a typical featureMay develop later in life
Right heart failureNot a typical featureMay develop later in life



What do you think?

Written by Dr. Ahmed

I am Dr. Ahmed (MBBS; FCPS Medicine), an Internist and a practicing physician. I am in the medical field for over fifteen years working in one of the busiest hospitals and writing medical posts for over 5 years.

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