Understanding Acute vs. Chronic Bronchitis: What You Need to Know


Bronchitis is caused by an infection in the bronchial tube lining, which carries air to and from the lungs. People with bronchitis usually cough up thick and discoloured mucus. It is often developed from a cold or respiratory infection.

There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is common, whereas chronic bronchitis is serious and causes inflammation and irritation in the bronchial tube lining. This condition mostly occurs due to smoking. Acute bronchitis is also known as a chest cold. It improves within 10 days; however, the cough might persist for weeks. It also requires medical attention and is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

In this blog, we will discuss acute vs chronic bronchitis symptoms in detail.

Acute Bronchitis

A. Definition and characteristics

Acute bronchitis is an infectious viral illness characterised by inflammation and irritation of the bronchial tubes, which are responsible for transporting air to the lungs. When the bronchial tubes become infected, they swell and produce viscous mucus, narrowing the tubes and making it difficult for the person to breathe.

B. Causes and risk factors

Bacterial and viral infections, environmental factors, and other lung diseases can cause acute bronchitis.

  • Viral Infections: Approximately 85 to 95 percent of adult cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses. Typically, acute bronchitis is triggered by the same viruses responsible for the common cold or flu.
  • Other Lung Conditions: Acute bronchitis can occasionally develop in individuals with asthma.
  • Irritating Substances: Inhaling irritants such as smoke, smog, and chemical fumes can inflame the trachea and bronchial tubes, potentially leading to acute bronchitis.
  • Bacterial Infections: In rare cases, viral bronchitis can progress to bacterial bronchitis. This can occur due to infections caused by bacteria such as Chlamydia pneumoniae, Bordetella pertussis, and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

The risk factors for acute bronchitis include the following:

  • Inhaling smoke from cigarette consumption, including passive smoking.
  • Having a weaker immune system or reduced resistance to infection.
  • Acid reflux.
  • Regular exposure to irritants such as dust or chemical fumes.
  • Age greater than 50.
  • Lack of vaccination for whooping cough, pneumonia, or flu.

C. Symptoms and diagnosis

There are two types of symptoms that a person can experience:

Emergency Symptoms

The following are the symptoms that require immediate medical attention:

  • Loud barking cough
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Chest pain
  • Trouble breathing
  • 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit fever
  • Cough lasting for 10 days or longer

Typical Symptoms 

The initial symptoms of acute bronchitis are similar to cold and flu. Some of them are mentioned below:

  • Sneezing
  • Wheezing
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Body aches
  • Fever
  • Cough with green or yellow mucus

Some rare symptoms are as follows:

  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea

It is important to see a doctor when a person experiences any symptoms. Upon visiting the doctor, they will perform some physical examinations. While performing the examination, your doctor will pay close attention to your breathing to detect any symptoms, such as wheezing. They will also inquire about your cough, including how often it occurs and whether or not mucus is produced. They may inquire if you have recently had a cold or another illness, as well as if you have any other breathing issues. They might also ask to do some diagnostic tests to rule out other possible conditions such as Covid-19.

  • Chest X-Ray – If pneumonia or another ailment is expected to be the cause of the cough, a chest X-ray can assist in diagnosing it. This is crucial if the person has ever smoked or is currently a smoker.
  • Lung Function Examination – The person breathes into a spirometer during a pulmonary function test to assess how much air the lungs can contain and how quickly they can expel it. This examination looks for indicators of asthma or emphysema.
  • Sputum Testing – The mucus in the cough is known as sputum. The person can get checked to discover if they have any conditions that antibiotics might be able to treat. This test can also be efficient for diagnosing allergy symptoms.

D. Treatment and management

Doctors usually do not provide medication to treat acute bronchitis unless the symptoms are severe. Instead, they suggest homecare treatment. Here’s what a person with acute bronchitis can do:

  • Purchase a humidifier to add moisture to the air. This can facilitate breathing by helping to release mucus in the chest and nasal passages.
  • Add ginger to tea or hot water. Ginger, with its inherent anti-inflammatory properties, can soothe irritated and swollen bronchial passages.
  • Consume lots of liquids, such as water or tea, to thin down mucus. This makes it easier to cough it up or blow it out of your nose.
  • Relieve cough by consuming dark honey. Honey is not only soothing to the throat but also possesses antiviral and antibacterial qualities.
  • Use over-the-counter nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications to relieve a sore throat.

It is important to understand that an infectious virus causes acute bronchitis. Thus, antibacterial medication won’t help. However, if a person with acute bronchitis is at high risk of pneumonia, our expert doctors at OMNI Hospital may prescribe antibiotics.

Chronic Bronchitis

A. Definition and characteristics

Chronic bronchitis is an inflammation caused by many factors, mainly viruses. People with chronic bronchitis experience symptoms such as coughing and shortness of breath. The person’s immune system responds to the irritation in the airways by causing them to enlarge and produce mucus.

B. Causes and risk factors

By far, smoking cigarettes is the main contributor to chronic bronchitis. The majority of people who have chronic bronchitis are active smokers. Additional factors that increase the likelihood of the condition include:

  • Dust
  • Smoke inhalation
  • Burnt coal and smoke
  • Emissions from engines, welding fumes, and air pollution
  • Certain vapours, such as those from house paint, if you work as a builder or hairspray.

The following factors increase the risk of chronic bronchitis:

  • Allergens
  • Pollution
  • Smoking (even passive smoking)
  • Family history
  • Asthma
  • Childhood respiratory diseases.

C. Symptoms and chronic bronchitis diagnosis

Thick mucus blocks your airways as a result of chronic bronchitis. Damage has been done to the tiny hairs that ordinarily help mucus exit your lungs, resulting in a cough. As the illness progresses, breathing becomes more difficult. Additional indications of chronic bronchitis include:

  • Wheezing
  • Slender chest
  • Fatigue
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Frequent coughing, often with mucus

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis usually worsen during winter. Therefore, it is advisable to see a doctor immediately. The doctor will inquire about the person’s smoking habits and conduct a thorough evaluation of the lungs using a stethoscope. Once the evaluation is complete, the doctor may prescribe several tests to assess the condition of the lungs, including:

  • CT X-Ray: This test is performed to examine the condition of the lungs.
  • Spirometry: This test measures lung function and determines how much air the lungs can hold.
  • Pulse Oximetry: This test assesses the oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Arterial Blood Gas: This test evaluates the lungs’ ability to introduce oxygen into the bloodstream and expel carbon dioxide.

D. Treatment and management

Here’s what doctors at OMNI Hospital do for chronic bronchitis treatment:

  • Antibiotics: At OMNI, your best doctor for bronchitis may prescribe antibiotics for bacterial and viral lung infections.
  • Oxygen Treatment: This treatment facilitates easier breathing.
  • Bronchodilators: Breathing becomes easier with the aid of bronchodilators, which relax the muscles surrounding your airways.
  • Pulmonary Rehabilitation Treatment: This treatment helps individuals with long-term breathing issues. It may include an exercise regimen, dietary guidance, disease management instruction, and psychological counselling.

In addition to medical attention, a person must take certain precautions to reduce the effects of chronic bronchitis. The following are the best approaches to lower your risk of chronic bronchitis:

  • Avoiding tobacco smoke
  • Avoiding passive smoking
  • Avoiding air pollution, toxins, and other lung irritants
  • Taking care of respiratory problems such as asthma or other illnesses.

IV. Differences between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

A. Duration and recurrence

Acute bronchitis occurs due to a respiratory infection like a cold, thus it goes away within a week. However, chronic bronchitis occurs due to serious conditions and can last for a longer period. The symptoms and signs might improve or worsen.

B. Underlying causes

The main causes of acute bronchitis are viruses such as rhinovirus (the virus causing the common cold), Influenza A and B (causes of the common flu). Some bacteria such as Mycoplasma Pneumoniae, Streptococcus Pneumoniae, Moraxella Catarrhalis, etc., also cause acute bronchitis.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is caused due to genetics, age, asthma, and allergies that require immediate medical attention.

C. Impact on lung function

Acute bronchitis does not affect the lungs, whereas chronic bronchitis, which occurs along with pneumonia, affects the lungs.

D. Prognosis and long-term effects

Usually, people recover from acute bronchitis, but a very few people develop bacterial infections such as pneumonia in the long term.

On the other hand, people suffering from chronic bronchitis can develop conditions such as COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). It also causes muscle spasms and inflammation.

V. Prevention and Lifestyle Tips

Below are ways to prevent bronchitis:

  • Smoking Cessation – Smoking causes several respiratory diseases, including bronchitis. Therefore, quitting tobacco (both active and passive smoking) can help prevent and reduce the risk of acute and chronic bronchitis.
  • Avoiding Environmental Pollutants – Individuals living in areas with high pollution are at a higher risk of developing acute and chronic bronchitis. It is advisable to wear a mask when going outside.
  • Practising Good Respiratory Hygiene – Practising yoga and asanas are excellent ways to improve the respiratory system. Additionally, maintaining a healthy diet, engaging in regular exercise for 30-40 minutes a day, and consuming nutritious food can help maintain good respiratory hygiene.

Strengthening the Immune System – The most effective method to strengthen the immune system is to maintain a healthy diet, receive vaccinations, refrain from consuming alcohol, maintain a healthy weight, etc. Additionally, minimising stress can boost the immune system.

VI. Conclusion

Bronchitis is a common respiratory condition, which viral infections can cause. However, it can be reduced by eliminating the flu, the common cold, or other respiratory illnesses. Additionally, practising good hygiene, such as frequent hand washing, can help prevent the spread of viral diseases. It is advisable to quit smoking and minimise exposure to environmental chemicals in order to prevent bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis can be treated with home remedies. However, for chronic bronchitis, it is important for a person to visit the doctor to ensure that the condition does not worsen. At OMNI Hospital, we have the best doctors for bronchitis who will treat the condition with their expertise and knowledge. Call us today to book a consultation!