Difference Between Bronchitis and Asthma

Main Difference – Bronchitis vs Asthma

Bronchitis and Asthma are two common medical conditions caused by some pathological changes in the respiratory system due to various etiological causes. Bronchitis is caused by an inflammation of the bronchial tube linings whereas asthma is caused by an inflammation of the bronchi due to an allergic reaction or another hypersensitivity. The main difference between bronchitis and asthma is that asthma is commonly caused by an allergic reaction whereas bronchitis can be caused by many different factors. 

This article covers, 

1. What is Colitis? 
     – Signs and Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

2. What is Ulcerative Colitis?
     – Signs and Symptoms, Causes and Risk Factors, Diagnosis, and Treatment

3. What is the difference between Colitis and Ulcerative Colitis?

Difference Between Bronchitis and Asthma - Bronchitis vs Asthma Comparison Summary

What is Bronchitis

Bronchitis is defined as an inflammation of the bronchial tube linings, which carry air from the atmosphere into the lungs and out of the lungs. Bronchitis can either occur as an acute or chronic condition depending on the time period of the signs and symptoms. Acute bronchitis will last only for a few days, and the patient will recover without any residual effects. Repeated bouts of bronchitis can be referred to as Chronic bronchitis, which is one of the serious conditions associated with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This usually occurs due to a constant irritation or inflammation of the bronchial tube linings, mostly due to long term smoking. Chronic bronchitis is usually defined as a productive cough which lasts at least 3 months, with repeated episodes for at least 2 consecutive years.

Causes and Risk Factors of Bronchitis

The major etiology for acute bronchitis includes viruses such as respiratory infections caused by Influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) whereas chronic bronchitis is caused by long-term exposure to cigarette smoke. In some individuals who are exposed to polluted air, dust, fumes, and toxic gasses in a chronic manner can later get affected by this condition which might give rise to severe complications like COPD.

Commonest risk factors for the development of Bronchitis can be,

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Weak immunity and poor resistance to infections- HIV/AIDS, Diabetes Mellitus, chronic illnesses, extremities of age
  • Chronic exposure to irritants like fumes, dust, chemicals, hair spray- Especially at the workplace
  • Gastric reflux-Repeated episodes of severe heartburn due gastroesophageal reflux disease can irritate the mucosa on the throat, making it more vulnerable to inflammations

Signs and Symptoms

Patients with bronchitis usually experience,

  • A productive cough with clear, white, yellowish-gray or green sputum which might or might not be mixed with blood
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Mild fever with chills
  • Chest pain or heaviness

These symptoms can sometimes resolve spontaneously without the need of any medication, but it is important to seek medical advice if,

  • Features last more than three weeks
  • Result in sleep disturbances
  • Fever is higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
  • Accompanied by discolored phlegm
  • Hemoptysis (coughing out blood)
  • Wheezing
  • Shortness of breath

Diagnosis and Treatment

An early diagnosis of Bronchitis will prevent most of the life-threatening complications. Therefore, there are some mandatory investigations which should be carried out in suspected patients to confirm the diagnosis and find the etiology.

  • Chest X-ray- Especially to exclude other conditions like Pneumonia which can cause similar symptoms and signs
  • Sputum tests- To exclude whooping cough (pertussis) and allergies
  • Pulmonary function test- To assess the function of respiratory system which will help in excluding Asthma or emphysema

Acute bronchitis will usually resolve within 1-2 weeks even without medication, but some physicians will prescribe Antibiotics, Cough suppressants, and anti-inflammatory agents to keep the airways opened up.

Individuals with chronic bronchitis will sometimes need pulmonary rehabilitation to reduce the susceptibility to further infections and inflammation. It will also help to ease breathing and maintain a proper functioning of the lungs.

Main Difference - Bronchitis vs Asthma

What is Asthma

Asthma is defined as a chronic lung disease which causes inflammation thereby narrowing the airways, resulting in recurrent episodes of wheezing, chest tightness, sleep disturbances, shortness of breath and coughing (often occurs at night or early in the morning). It can affect individuals of any age, but many identified cases have found to be initiated during the childhood.

Asthma is not a condition which can be cured completely, but it can be effectively managed symptomatically with proper and timely medication.

Causes and Risk Factors

As far as the etiology is concerned, exposure to different irritants can easily trigger an inflammation of the airways which will release the chemical known as Histamine, resulting in bronchoconstriction and vasodilatation.

Commonest irritants

  • Pollen grains, dust mites, spores, pet dander, cockroach waste
  • Respiratory infections (common cold, flu)
  • Strenuous physical activities (exercise-induced asthma)
  • Cold air and humidity
  • B blockers, aspirin, ibuprofen and Naproxen
  • Emotional disturbances (stress)
  • Certain foods and beverages (shrimp, tomatoes, potatoes, beer, wine)
  • Gastro esophageal reflux disease (GERD)

Risk factors for Asthma include a positive family history, history of atopic dermatitis or allergic rhinitis, obesity, tobacco smoke, second-hand smoking, hair spray, fumes and toxic gasses.

Diagnosis and Treatment

As far as the diagnosis of asthma is concerned, it is important to identify the triggering factors and exclude conditions which can give out similar signs and symptoms. Mandatory investigations in a clinically suspected individual include,

  • Assessment of the lung function
  • Spirometry and peak-flowmetry- to assess the severity of airway narrowing
  • Methacholine challenge- A positive response to this chemical which is a known asthma trigger will confirm Asthma.
  • Chest X-ray
  • Sputum Eosinophil analysis

Treatment for Asthma depends on how severe the condition is and how it interferes one’s day to day activities.

  • Mild intermittent- Mild symptoms at least 2 days/week and 2 nights/month
  • Mild persistent-Symptoms more than twice a week, but no more than once in a single day
  • Moderate persistent-Symptoms once/day and more than one night/week
  • Severe persistent-Symptoms throughout the day on most days and frequently at night

There are 2 major types of Asthma medication, including ‘Preventive’- (inhaled corticosteroids, leukotriene modifiers, long-acting B agonists) which provide a long-term relief on reducing the inflammation of airways and Quick-relief inhalers (bronchodilators-short acting B agonists, Ipratropium) which provide an immediate action causing a widening and opening up the airways.

Difference Between Bronchitis and Asthma

Difference Between Bronchitis and Asthma

Both Bronchitis and Asthma are inflammatory conditions of the lower respiratory tract, which could possibly result in a difficulty in breathing.


Asthma is a chronic condition characterized by recurrent bouts of airway narrowing.

Bronchitis is a short-term or acute illness, usually lasting 1-few weeks (on a long term basis).

Signs and Symptoms

Individuals with asthma will often complain of a chest tightness, shortness of breath and wheeze.

Acute bronchitis will present with a hacking cough, with or without phlegm and chronic bronchitis with a persistent cough and wheezing.

Image Courtesy:

“Bronchitis” By BruceBlaus – Own work (CC BY-SA 4.0) via Commons Wikimedia

“Asthma attack-illustration NIH” By United States-National Institute of Health: National Heart, Lung, Blood Institute (Public Domain) via Commons Wikimedia 

About the Author: Embogama

Embogama is a passionate freelance writer for several years. Her areas of interest include general medicine, clinical medicine, health and fitness, Ayurveda medicine, psychology, counseling and piano music