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The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

The Difference Between Acute and Chronic Bronchitis

Bronchitis is a common respiratory condition that often results in productive cough, fatigue, and chest discomfort. What’s the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis? Find out here.

What Is Bronchitis?

Discussing the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis requires us to understand the condition first.

Bronchitis is a respiratory condition wherein the bronchi, the tubes that carry air to the lungs, become inflamed.

As a result, the patient develops thickened, and sometimes, discolored mucus.

Phlegm Color Meanings, Decoded

Acute and Chronic Bronchitis: What’s the Difference?

Now, there are several types of bronchitis, but the most common are acute and chronic.

Their difference mostly lies in the duration of the condition, and of course, the severity.

Where acute bronchitis, also called chest cold, could last for about 2 weeks (up to 8 weeks for some people), chronic bronchitis is more severe and could even persist for months and recur within years.

Below are the specific differences between acute and chronic bronchitis.

Causes

One acute and chronic bronchitis difference is their cause.

You see, acute bronchitis often happens after an upper respiratory tract infection. And most of the time, viruses – the same ones that cause cold and flu – trigger it.

There are also instances when a bacterial infection causes acute bronchitis, but that’s less common.

The other cause of acute bronchitis is exposure to physical and chemical agents like pollens, dust, fumes, and cigarette smoke. People suffering from conditions like chronic sinusitis, enlarged tonsils, and allergies, could also develop acute bronchitis.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis commonly happens after long-term exposure to strong irritants or fumes that are capable of damaging the lungs.

Examples of these strong irritants are tobacco smoke, air pollution, chemical fumes, and specks of dust from the area where the person works.

Tips to Improve Air Quality at Home: What to Avoid

Symptoms

After understanding their causes, let’s talk about acute and chronic bronchitis symptoms.

Generally, acute and chronic bronchitis results in the similar symptoms, including:

  • Cough
  • Phlegm or mucous, which could be clear, white, yellowish, or greenish.
  • Although rarely, the phlegm could also be tinged with blood.
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue
  • Chest discomfort
  • Slight fever and chills

If a person has acute bronchitis, they’ll probably notice that the symptoms will improve in a week or two. However, they might experience “nagging coughs” for several weeks or so.

In case someone experiences these symptoms for at least 3 months, and they’ve had recurring bouts for 2 consecutive years, they may be suffering from chronic bronchitis.

acute and chronic bronchitis difference

Treatment

Another difference between acute and chronic bronchitis is their treatment.

Most cases of chest cold spontaneously resolve – the symptoms will go away on their own.

However, there are cases of acute bronchitis caused by bacterial infection that require antibiotic therapy

What the patients can do is treat the symptoms. They can do this by:

  • Drinking more fluids
  • Getting plenty of rest
  • Using saline sprays for stuffy nose
  • Steam inhalation
  • Having warm showers
  • Taking lozenges
  • Avoiding exposure to second-hand smoke or quitting smoking
  • Humidifying the air

acute and chronic bronchitis difference

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, has no specific treatment. It usually results in poor quality of life and recurring respiratory infection.

Symptoms may be addressed by the following

  • Medicines such as bronchodilators. Bronchodilators are agents that relax the tubes that bring air to the lungs. Taking bronchodilators makes breathing easier.
  • Oxygen therapy. Severe cases of chronic bronchitis might require oxygen therapy to help patients breathe better. Oxygen use should be prescribed by doctors after thorough assessment.
  • Rehabilitation therapy. For people with long-term respiratory problems, like chronic bronchitis, pulmonary rehabilitation therapy might be necessary. This is a holistic approach that aims to improve the patient’s overall well-being through nutritional and psychological counseling, exercise programs, and disease management training.

Whatever therapy or medication is deemed necessary by the doctor, a chronic bronchitis patient will most definitely be advised to change some things in his lifestyle.

In particular, the patient will have to quit or avoid smoking and follow a meal plan to suit their nutritional needs.

Finally, if the patient no longer responds to medication or therapy, the doctor may suggest a lung transplant.

Complications

What’s the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis when it comes to complications?

According to doctors, a single episode of acute bronchitis is unlikely to cause any complications. However, for some people, it could lead to pneumonia.

For chronic bronchitis, some patients can develop COPD or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

This indicates the possibility of a wide array of complications, such as respiratory infections, lung cancer, high blood pressure, and even depression.

Key Takeaways

Acute and chronic bronchitis may exhibit the same symptoms, but they are different in various aspects, like causes, treatment, prevention, and complications.

If you or someone you care for suffers from the symptoms listed above, and they are not improving, don’t hesitate to consult a doctor.

Learn more about Bronchitis here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Lorraine Bunag, R.N. Updated Jun 16
Fact Checked by Dr. Jeannette Daquinag
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