Bronchitis is irritation and inflammation of the airways, causing air to move in and out of the lungs. Acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis share similar symptoms, including a dry or productive cough and shortness of breath, but they are different diseases that last for different periods of time.
Acute bronchitis is a relatively short-term illness, usually caused by a viral infection, that does not require antibiotic treatment. If you are diagnosed with acute bronchitis, you may recover within a few days to a few weeks. In contrast, chronic bronchitis is a lifelong, serious disease.
If you have chronic bronchitis, you may also have emphysema, which affects the lungs, not the bronchi. Although emphysema and chronic bronchitis can occur together, there are differences between emphysema and bronchitis.
Acute and chronic bronchitis share many of the same symptoms because they both result from inflammation of the bronchial tubes.
The most common symptoms include:
- dry cough
- A productive cough that produces thick and/or discolored mucus. This mucus mixed with saliva is often called sputum.
- sinus congestion
- chest tightness
- shortness of breath
- body aches or chills
- chest discomfort caused by coughing
Here is a snapshot of the symptoms that differentiate acute bronchitis from chronic bronchitis.
Short-term illness caused by an infection that lasts for days or weeks
sneezing and runny nose
Long-term duration of at least three months within two consecutive years
chest tightness or pain
swelling of the ankles, feet, and (sometimes) legs
The typical progression of acute bronchitis symptoms begins with a runny nose, sore throat, expectoration, and a low-grade fever. After three or four days, a dry cough may develop.
The symptoms of acute bronchitis are usually more severe than those of chronic bronchitis.
Most cases of acute bronchitis last 3 to 10 days. However, the cough may persist for several weeks, even after the infection that caused the cough has resolved.
Acute bronchitis usually improves on its own, but if it’s caused by a bacterial infection, treatment may be needed.
In addition to the general effects of bronchitis, symptoms of acute bronchitis include:
- low-grade fever
- sneezing, runny nose
- sore throat
Chronic bronchitis is characterized by expectoration of sputum lasting at least three months for two consecutive years. Chronic bronchitis is not a curable disease, but the symptoms can be treated with medication.
In addition to the general effects of bronchitis, symptoms of chronic bronchitis include:
- chest tightness or pain
- persistent tiredness or fatigue
- Swelling of the ankles or feet; swelling of the legs (related to the cardiac complications of bronchitis)
symptoms in children
Children can develop acute bronchitis due to infection, and children rarely develop chronic bronchitis.In addition to common symptoms of acute bronchitis, children are more likely to vomit from acute bronchitis Because they may swallow phlegm. Vomiting can occur suddenly and without warning, with a nauseating cough.
less common symptoms
Bronchitis can usually be identified by expectorating sputum. There are some other less common symptoms of bronchitis, including:
- Bad breath: People with acute bronchitis develop bad breath very quickly. Chronic bad breath can also be a sign of chronic bronchitis. This happens when a stuffy nose forces you to breathe through your mouth, allowing bacteria to grow on your tongue and mucous membranes. This bacteria may produce odor. In general, antibiotics are not recommended to reduce the bacteria that cause bad breath.
- Coughing up blood: A persistent cough in acute and chronic bronchitis can lead to traumatic tears and bleeding from the bronchi or throat. This will make you cough up bloody phlegm.
- Lack of physical endurance: When you have acute or chronic bronchitis, you may become short of breath due to physical exertion, sometimes limiting your ability to exercise or walk long distances. If you have acute bronchitis, this will improve after the disease has subsided for a few days. If you have chronic bronchitis, you may need physical therapy to improve your endurance.
- Difficulty sleeping: The persistent cough and nasal congestion from bronchitis can disrupt your sleep and make it difficult to rest, no matter what time of day or night you try to fall asleep.
Bronchitis has several serious complications, but they are uncommon. Complications can occur with chronic or acute bronchitis, but complications are more likely with chronic bronchitis due to the long-term effects of the disease.
- Infection: If you have bronchitis, you may be more susceptible to another respiratory infection. If you get a second infection while you have acute bronchitis, your recovery may be delayed. If you develop a respiratory infection while you have chronic bronchitis, this can trigger an episode of acute bronchitis in addition to your chronic condition. Acute bronchitis episodes in chronic bronchitis can be more severe and last longer.
- Pneumonia: If you have any type of bronchitis, your lungs are more likely to become infected, which can lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia is a long-term infection that makes you feel worse than acute bronchitis.
- Aspiration pneumonia: If you cough while eating, a cough with bronchitis can cause you to choke on food. This can cause the food you eat to go through the wrong tube into your lungs instead of your stomach. Aspiration pneumonia can be a persistent infection that can damage your health and take months to recover.
- Heart disease: Chronic bronchitis’s long-term breathing difficulties can put extra stress on your heart, leading to heart disease or worsening heart failure.
- Bronchial mucus: Defined as excessive excretion of watery mucus from the lungs, resulting in a cough.This secretion is more phlegm than normal and only occurs when a person coughs At least That’s the equivalent of 20 teaspoons of mucus expelled from their lungs every day. It causes a persistent cough and shortness of breath, which can be exacerbated if these symptoms are already present.
When to see a healthcare provider
If your symptoms seem to be worse than common cold symptoms, or if you have trouble breathing, you should call your healthcare provider.
Other warning signs to look for:
- Delayed recovery: If you have symptoms of acute bronchitis but you do not start feeling better soon, contact your healthcare provider because you may have a serious respiratory illness.
- Recurrence of symptoms after recovery: If your cough persists for more than four to six weeks after diagnosis, contact your healthcare provider. If your symptoms improve and then get worse or different than before, you may have developed another infection and should seek medical attention.
- Shortness of breath: If you find that you cannot breathe when you exert minimal physical exertion or when you are resting, you should seek medical attention.
- Spitting up blood or blood: If you have blood or blood clots in your phlegm, or you vomit blood, this may be a symptom of something more serious than bronchitis.
- Swelling: If your hands and feet are swollen or puffy, this could be a symptom of a serious respiratory or heart problem and you should seek medical attention.
Frequently Asked Questions
When will my bronchitis symptoms go away?
The non-cough symptoms of acute bronchitis (stuffy nose, fever, headache, fatigue) usually last only a few days. A cough can last up to two to three weeks, but on average, it hovers around 18 days.
Chronic bronchitis is a lifelong disease, and you experience periodic flare-ups of symptoms that last at least three months at a time.
Why does my bronchitis look worse at night?
Coughs caused by bronchitis can be worse at night because the airways tend to be more sensitive and easily irritated when the airway muscles relax. You may feel more congested and stuffed at night (or anytime you lie down) because mucus collects in your upper airways.
What triggers bronchitis symptoms?
The gradual buildup of mucus in the lining of the bronchi (airways) is responsible for the symptoms of bronchitis, including the characteristic cough of bronchitis. At first, the cough may be dry, but as mucus builds up, the cough becomes prolific and brings out excess mucus.
What other conditions can cause symptoms similar to bronchitis?
Many diseases can cause symptoms similar to bronchitis, such as a persistent cough. This can include:
- allergic rhinitis
- common cold
- Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD)
- after nasal instillation
- sinus infection
The similarities between these conditions and bronchitis can sometimes make diagnosis difficult. However, in addition to coughing, there are often other symptoms that can help distinguish them from bronchitis.
Is bronchitis contagious?
No, chronic bronchitis is not contagious, but a separate viral or bacterial infection of the respiratory tract can cause acute bronchitis. If you are around someone with cough and other symptoms of bronchitis, keep your distance as much as possible and wash your hands after being around them.
What causes wheezing, dry cough?
Asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), vocal cord dysfunction, bronchitis, pneumonia, and various allergic reactions and infections that narrow the airways can all lead to wheezing, dry coughs. When air has to pass through the tightened airway, it produces the high-pitched sound we call wheezing.
Bronchitis Causes and Risk Factors