Asthma and bronchitis are respiratory illnesses with similar manifestations of airway inflammation, irritation, and coughing. So, bronchitis is often mistaken for asthma and vice versa.

In both conditions, inflammation causes your airway to swell, making it harder for the air to move in and out of your lungs. As a result, less oxygen reaches your organs and tissues. Inadequate oxygen supply causes symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. 

While asthma and bronchitis may have similar symptoms, the causes are different. Environmental triggers and genetic disorders are primary causes of asthma, but tobacco smoke and viruses are the primary causes of bronchitis.

Knowing the differences between the conditions is essential to manage as their treatment needs are different. Here are some of the similarities and differences between asthma and bronchitis.

Asthma

Asthma is an inflammatory condition that causes your airways to swell and produce excess mucus. This may trigger cough and make it difficult for you to breathe.

Asthma cannot be cured, but you can manage the symptoms and prevent it from worsening. Besides, the symptoms of asthma change over time, so you need to talk to your doctor and understand how you can track your symptoms and adjust treatment as needed.

Bronchitis

Bronchitis is also an inflammatory condition, but it affects the smaller airways in your lungs (bronchial tubes). In addition to breathlessness, you will also produce thick mucus. 

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis is a common occurrence and mainly develops from a cold or other respiratory infection. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a more severe disorder causing inflammation of the lining of your airways, often due to smoking.

So, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis. In this case, it is better to consult your doctor and manage it accordingly.

Symptoms

Asthma and bronchitis may have the following symptoms in common:

  • Whistling sound while exhaling, wheezing
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Tightness of the chest

You may also have the following symptoms in acute bronchitis:

  • Chills
  • Low fever
  • Body aches

Besides, you will produce thick mucus, which can be clear, green, or yellow.

While the symptoms of cough, breathlessness, wheezing, and chest tightness last only for a few days in acute bronchitis, they stay for a longer time in chronic bronchitis. However, the symptoms of asthma come and go. If you have asthma, exercise, or allergens (such as pollens) may also trigger your symptoms.

Causes and Risk Factors

It is not known exactly what causes asthma, but it is considered to be a combination of the environment and genes. Inherited genes make you more sensitive to allergic triggers such as pollen, smoke, and pet dander.

Some factors that may increase your risk of asthma are:

  • A family history of asthma
  • A family history of allergies
  • History of respiratory infections as a child
  • Other allergic conditions such as eczema
  • Constant exposure to dust or chemicals at work

In some cases, certain allergens may trigger asthma, such as:

  • Mold
  • Pollen
  • Smoke
  • Cockroaches
  • Exercise 
  • Dust
  • Pet dander
  • Pollution
  • Changes in weather
  • Stress
  • Cold and other respiratory infections

Bacteria or viruses mainly cause acute bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis may be triggered by environmental factors such as:

  • Chemical fumes
  • Dust
  • Tobacco smoke
  • Air pollution

Besides, risk factors that may increase the risk of getting bronchitis are:

  • Have a weakened immune system
  • Smoke cigarettes
  • Exposed to tobacco smoke
  • Exposed to chemical fumes, dust, or farming
  • Above the age of 45 years
  • Autoimmune conditions such as cystic fibrosis

Lastly, asthma and bronchitis are also different in the way they affect you. While asthma is mainly due to inflammation, bronchitis affects the cells responsible for fighting an infection.

Asthmatic Bronchitis

Although bronchitis can affect anyone, asthma may increase your risk of getting it. Asthmatic bronchitis is a type of bronchitis that is a result of asthma.

Asthma constricts the airways of your lungs. It also inflames them, which results in the formation of mucus. This is your body’s way of removing what it thinks to be an infection. But the mucus further damages and blocks the airways of your lungs.

So, anything that enters your airways, including viruses or bacteria, gets trapped when you have an asthma flare-up. Gradually, the residue may damage your lung tissue, increasing the risk of bronchitis.

Prevention

The primary aim to prevent asthma or bronchitis is to avoid or limit your exposure to triggers:

  • If you smoke, you can ask your doctor for alternative methods, such as medicine and nicotine replacement to help you quit. Stopping smoking is one of the most important ways to prevent lung damage and bronchitis.
  • Stay away from dust, chemicals, pollen, or pollution. When you are around these substances, wear a mask.
  • Stay in touch with your doctor for vaccines. Pneumonia and flu vaccines are important to protect your lungs.
  • Get a regular check-up and follow the treatment plan advised by your doctor.

Remedies

Acute Bronchitis

Your doctor will advise you to drink enough water, rest, and take pain killers to relieve your symptoms. Antibiotics are not useful in most cases of acute bronchitis as it is often caused by a virus. 

Chronic Bronchitis and Asthma

Both these conditions need similar medications as the main goal is to open your airways and make it easier for you to breathe:

Bronchodilators relax the muscles surrounding your airways and thus help them open up and ease your breathing. These medicines can also help reduce mucus production in your lungs. You can also breathe them through an inhaler into your lungs.

  • Short-acting bronchodilators: They act quickly, within a few minutes, to relieve shortness of breath or cough when these symptoms flare-up. They are also known as quick-relief or rescue drugs. Some examples include ipratropium, albuterol, and levalbuterol.
  • Long-acting bronchodilators: These medicines take longer to act, but their effect lasts for several hours. You can take them every day. Some examples include salmeterol, formoterol, tiotropium.
  • Steroids: They aid in bringing down the swelling in your airways. Steroids are usually taken through an inhaler. Some examples include fluticasone, budesonide, and mometasone.

Besides, you may need allergy shots if allergy triggers your bronchitis or asthma. 

Final thoughts

Both asthma and bronchitis can cause similar symptoms, such as wheezing and coughing. But they have different causes and treatments. Thus, knowing similarities and differences help in their better management.

Acute bronchitis settles once the infection clears. Asthma and chronic bronchitis can stay with you for a long time. You can prevent the symptoms and improve the quality of your life by taking the medicines regularly and avoiding the triggers.

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