Asthma vs Bronchitis: How to Spot The Differences

Graphic of Internal LungsOne of the most troubling things about asthma and bronchitis is that they share some similar symptoms. However, they don’t have the same root causes.

With both bronchitis and asthma, airways experience inflammation, which makes it more difficult for air to get to the lungs.

This reduction in air means that organs and tissue don’t receive as much oxygen as they should. Lack of oxygen triggers adverse symptoms, such as coughing, shortness of breath and tightness in the chest.

In this post, we’d like to share some detailed information about these two diseases, so that you can spot the differences between asthma vs bronchitis.

Learn About Differences in Symptoms

As we mentioned at the start of this article, bronchitis and asthma have certain symptoms in common.

Wheezing while breathing is one of them. The other three are shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and coughing.

So, how does a person figure out which problem he or she has?

Seeing a doctor who may run tests to exclude or confirm the presence of either health issue will be the smartest way to proceed. However, we the information below may make it easier for you to get a sense of which problem you’re dealing with if you have a concern right now.

Do You Have Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is triggered by environmental factors or by viruses. Common environmental triggers include pollution, pollen, dust and tobacco smoke. Changes to genes may also cause bronchitis.

If you have difficulty breathing, are experiencing a cough which is productive and have a fever, bronchitis may be the reason why.

Another signal that bronchitis may be the problem versus asthma is if the cough contains dense mucus. This mucus may be any variety of green, yellow or transparent.

When bronchitis is acute, other symptoms may be present as well, including chills, body aches and low fever of 100°F (37.7°C) to 102°F (38.8°C).

With the acute form of bronchitis, wheezing, chest tightness and cough typically last for 2-3 days or as long as 3-4 weeks. The symptoms will persist until the infection goes away.

Those who suffer from chronic bronchitis will experience symptoms on a long term basis.

Do You Have Asthma?

At present, the root causes of asthma are still a bit mysterious.

Most medical experts think that asthma is caused by environmental factors, plus genes. Environmental factors include pet dander, smoke, pollen mold and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Having allergies and performing exercise are also known culprits for causing asthma attacks.

In terms of the likelihood of developing asthma, you will be more likely to experience this health problem if your parents are allergy or asthma sufferers. Also, if you had repeated respiratory infections when you were young, you’ll be more prone to developing the condition. Those who have been exposed to dust or chemicals/VOCs in the workplace are at risk too. In addition, smoking or being around smokers will increase your risk of having asthma.

In general, asthma attacks will be triggered by substances in the environment.

For example, mold, dust, pollen, pet dander, smoke, pollution, chemical gases or fumes in the workplace and weather changes are common environmental triggers. In terms of other triggers, stress is also high on the list and it tends to make every health condition worse. Also, infections and colds may increase your chances of having an asthma attack.

To find out more, take a look at Understanding Asthma and How it Affects You.

More Facts About Bronchitis

Bronchitis may be chronic or acute.

When bronchitis is acute, it’s typically triggered by bacteria or by a virus.

Bronchitis of the chronic type is generally triggered by environmental factors. Examples of these environmental factors include fumes from chemicals, smoke from tobacco, dust and air pollution. Such substances inflame and irritate the airway of a bronchitis sufferer.

People have a greater chance of getting bronchitis if they smoke or are around second-hand smoke. Those with weaker immune systems may also be more likely to develop infections.

People who work in industries where exposure to chemical fumes and dust are common will have a higher risk of getting bronchitis too. Examples of high-risk industries include textiles, coal mining and farming.

Lastly, if you’re over the age of forty-five, you’re at greater risk of experiencing the unpleasant effects of bronchitis.

Diagnosis and Treatment

If you’re having persistent coughing and wheezing, this is a clear sign that you should get checked out by a physician for asthma.

If your family doctor thinks that you may have asthma, he or she will most likely refer you to a pulmonologist. This type of specialist treats diseases of the lungs and asthma.

A pulmonologist will diagnosis your asthma through the use of several types of tests:

  • Spirometry: This is where you will blow into a device that tells how well your lungs are actually functioning.
  • Chest X-Ray: This will show a scan of your lungs and give a good idea if some aspect of your airways are being obstructed.
  • Sputum Test: If you are coughing up mucous, a sample will be taken of the mucous to be tested for viral infections.

The acute form of bronchitis is often treated with an antibiotic, since it’s caused by a bacteria or virus. Your doctor will also ask you to get plenty of rest, stay hydrated and take pain-relieving medication in order to reduce your symptoms.

There are common medications which are used to treat chronic bronchitis and asthma.

Examples include bronchodilators, such as Atrovent and Proventil, which are short-acting. Long-acting bronchodilators are also prescribed, including Foradil and Spiriva.

Steroids are another treatment option and they decrease swelling within the airway. These are administered via inhalers. Examples, include Rhinocort and Pulmicort.

Some people who need short-term treatment are prescribed oral versions of steroids, such as Prednisone, which are taken in the form of pills.

If you are diagnosis with asthma, one of the best things you can do is buy an inexpensive air purifier for your home. This device will remove all of the bad particles that trigger asthma out of the air and trap them inside a filter. People who use an air purifier at home for asthma can expect the air around them to 99.97% particle free.

Now that you have a deeper understanding of the differences between asthma vs bronchitis you’ll be ready to see your doctor if it’s appropriate.