Bronchitis vs Asthma

Bronchitis and asthma are some of the common medical problems faced by people all over the world. Both these conditions are associated with the respiratory system of the body, but there are some basic differences between the two, and some similarities as well.

Differences Between Bronchitis and Asthma

To begin this segment, it is bronchitis we would discuss. In the body, air is supplied to and from the lungs with the help of what is known as the bronchial tubes. These tubes are large, and delicate. After the air passes through the mouth, nasal passages, and windpipe, it is these tubes that transport the air into the tiny branches, and smaller cells of the lungs. Due to certain factors, the lining of these very tubes become inflamed, and this condition is known as bronchitis. It occurs in two forms; acute and chronic. The acute one is known to be a common condition and less severe than the other. However, the latter is the one that raises concerns. It is a more severe condition that is long-term in nature, and requires regular medical treatment to keep it from progressing.

Asthma refers to a condition which is characterized by the narrowing and swelling of the airways or bronchial tubes that carry air to and from the lungs. This makes breathing difficult. Unlike, the above condition, it is solely chronic and requires long-term treatment. To add to this, it is incurable. For some people, the condition may be nothing more than a nuisance, while for some, it may lead to a life-threatening asthma attack. Although there is no cure for this respiratory condition, there are treatment methods to help manage and control the symptoms.

Causes of Bronchitis and Asthma

If we speak of the acute form of the condition, then it commonly follows a common cold infection. The virus that causes cold, is also known to give rise to this condition, in almost 90% of cases. However, this is always not the case. The bronchial tubes may get inflamed in response to active and passive tobacco smoking, exposure to household cleaners, dusts, fumes, and smog. Certain underlying conditions such as Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD) may also be an offender.

For chronic bronchitis as well, the same set of causes as mentioned above come into the picture. However, the chief cause in most people is long-term cigarette smoking. Also, incidences of this condition is higher in people who are involved in coal mining, metal molding, and daily jobs that expose them to dust and fumes. Usually, a person may have repeated attacks of acute bronchitis. With time, this weakens and irritates the bronchial tubes thus, resulting in chronic bronchitis. A person is said to be suffering from this problem if he coughs almost every day for at least 3 months a year, in two consecutive years.

Asthma has no identifiable causes thus, it is regarded as idiopathic. While bronchitis has some specific set of causes, doctors aren’t sure why some people contract asthma, while others don’t, even when both these groups are leading a similar lifestyle. Assumptions are that, genetic factors, and environmental factors may be the contributing factors. Doctors have, however, been able to identify factors which may trigger an asthma attack. These are:

  • Infections such as common cold
  • Pollutants, and allergens such as pollen, dander, etc.
  • Smoking
  • Emotional stress like strong sense of fear or excitement
  • Certain drugs
  • Even exercises
  • Certain preservatives added in food items
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
  • Periods in women
  • Certain foods
  • Inhaling cold air


In most cases, acute and chronic bronchitis share the same symptoms. These might include:

  • Cough (in case of the chronic form, it persists for several months)
  • Mucus that is produced may be clear, or white. Some people may also produce yellowish-gray or even green mucus
  • Difficulty in breathing; it worsens even by mild physical exertion.
  • Fatigue
  • Chills
  • Low-grade fever
  • Wheezing
  • Discomfort in the chest

Apart from the above symptoms, one that may be specific to chronic bronchitis is frequent occurrence of infections such as cold and flu, and worsening of the cough. Also, excessive coughing in the mornings and damp weather is a classic sign of chronic bronchitis symptom.

The symptoms may greatly vary with individuals. Some may have symptoms too mild to bother, while for some of the symptoms may indicate an emergency. Some people may have the attack only during the night, and others may have frequent attacks throughout the day. Some common symptoms may include:

  • Tightness in the chest
  • Wheezing (a common sign in asthmatic children)
  • Persistent coughing that gets worse with cold or flu
  • Difficulty in breathing; insomnia may be a result


Treatment plan remains the same for both the types of bronchitis. However, in case of the chronic one, the treatment would be a long-term. At home, self-care measures such as rest, drinking fluids, breathing in warm and moist air, and making use of cough suppressants may be good enough to cure acute bronchitis. And the same measures may have to be followed regularly in case of chronic bronchitis. Also, in some circumstances, if the patient is already suffering from some other medical conditions, then he may be prescribed with some other medications. People suffering from chronic bronchitis are usually recommended to get involved in a breathing exercise program, with the help of a respiratory therapist.

Treatment mainly involves identifying triggering factors, and taking regular asthma medication. Medication is usually of two types; long-term one and short-term one. The former type is for reducing chances of sudden attacks, and the other is for quick relief to control symptoms during an attack. It is important to know that, if the long-term medications are doing their job, then one may not need to use the short-term ones.

To summarize, bronchitis could be acute or chronic, where the first one usually improves on its own, while the other requires long-term medical care. On the other hand, asthma is a chronic medical condition that cannot be reversed once it sets in. However, for both these conditions, treatment methods are available to help improve the quality of life of the sufferer.

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