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      Bronchitis vs Bronchiolitis

      Common Health Problems

      Bronchitis vs Bronchiolitis

      Updated on 3 November 2023

      Bronchiolitis and bronchitis are clinically different conditions. However, both have uncanny similarities in their causes and symptoms, and sometimes in their treatment courses as well. A similarity between them, for example, is that both conditions cause inflammation but the difference is that they affect different parts of the lungs. Main bronchitis and bronchiolitis difference is that bronchitis involves inflammation of the airways leading to the bronchi whereas bronchiolitis involves inflammation of the small airways that branch off from the bronchi called bronchioles. They are common infections that can occur in people of any age.

      Difference between bronchiolitis and bronchitis

      Bronchitis is usually nothing to worry about. But it can lead to more serious diseases like pneumonia. It is not a good idea to ignore bronchitis especially if someone has been experiencing symptoms very frequently. Frequent cases of bronchitis may indicate the presence of a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that needs immediate treatment.

      On the other hand, many cases of bronchiolitis are mild and can be easily treated. They are no worse than the common cold. However, if severe bronchiolitis is not treated wheezing can recur and reduce the quality of life. This complication can continue until puberty. This condition can be fatal if severe cases are not treated.

      Most children recover at home within 3 to 5 days or are discharged within 5 days of admission, while some may take up to a week to return to normal.

      What are the symptoms of bronchitis and bronchiolitis?

      Differentiating between bronchiolitis and bronchitis can sometimes be difficult because their symptoms are so similar. However, the areas affected by them are different. This is a significant Bronchitis and Bronchiloitis difference. The severity of symptoms in both conditions can vary from mild to severe.

      Bronchitis Symptoms

      Symptoms of bronchitis include

      • Cough that produces shortness of breath with mucus

      • Mild fever

      • Chills

      • Tiredness

      • Pain or tightness in the chest

      If the cough lasts longer than three weeks or keeps the affected person awake for nights at stretch, they should immediately see a doctor. Severe symptoms of bronchitis include

      • Cough

      • Whistling or bright green mucus

      • Bloody sputum

      Bronchiolitis Symptoms

      Symptoms of bronchiolitis include

      • Raspy and dry cough

      • Wheezing

      • Moderate fever

      • Stuffy nose

      • Runny nose

      In infants, bronchiolitis symptoms may be severe and can include

      • Breathing difficulty

      • A pulse rate of 50 to 60

      • High fever around the mark of 101 degrees

      • Irritability

      • Fatigue

      • Appetite loss

      • A tinge of blue color on the face

      What causes bronchiolitis and bronchitis?

      A combination of factors may lead to bronchitis and/or bronchiolitis.


      According to the American Lung Association, bronchiolitis often occurs in young children. The cause is usually viral and the respiratory syncytial virus is the most common infectious agent in bronchiolitis. It can happen at any time of the year but is more common in winter.

      Acute Bronchitis

      According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), viruses are the most common cause of acute bronchitis. In some cases, viral infections such as the common cold can develop into bronchitis. Less commonly, it may be a bacterial infection leading to bronchitis.

      Chronic Bronchitis

      Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, often develops over time from exposure to environmental stimuli such as smoking, biomass fuel smoke or air pollution. This is also a long-term condition.

      How are bronchiolitis and bronchitis diagnosed?

      Respiratory infections including bronchitis and bronchiolitis often have similar symptoms. This can complicate the diagnosis. For this reason, the diagnosis sometimes rules out other lung conditions such as pneumonia and asthma. A doctor usually analyzes a person's medical history and reviews symptoms in diagnosing bronchitis and bronchiolitis. The doctor also performs a physical examination where they measure oxygen levels and listen for chest sounds. In some cases, they may also order blood tests and a chest X-ray to check for signs of infection.

      To diagnose bronchiolitis a healthcare professional performs a test called a nasopharyngeal swab that checks for the respiratory syncytial virus. This virus is the most common cause of bronchiolitis infection, which is the major point of difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis.

      Treatment for Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis

      Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis require supportive care. Supportive care focuses on managing and relieving symptoms. Treatment at home is often sufficient and both conditions usually resolve without complications. However, the following treatments may also help.

      Bronchiolitis Treatment

      Bronchitis symptoms can be treated in the following ways.

      • Use of saline nasal spray

      • Sleeping with the head elevated helps to make breathing easier

      • Oxygen therapy helps children who have low oxygen levels and need to be hospitalized

      • The high-flow nasal cannula reduces airway resistance and lowers air pressure, making it easier to breathe,

      Bronchitis Treatment

      A person can ease the symptoms of bronchitis by:

      • Drinking plenty of fluids

      • Taking adequate rest

      • Using saline nasal drops

      • Using a humidifier to add moisture to the air, making it easier to breathe

      • Taking cough medicine

      • Using bronchodilators such as albuterol

      Bronchitis can also be prevented by taking annual flu shots.

      Thus, while Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis are very similar, which often makes diagnosis difficult, they are different conditions. Moreover, the difference between Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis may necessitate differing treatments.

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      Written by

      Madhavi Gupta

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