Healthy Living

Is There a Link Between Asthma and Bronchitis?

Is There a Link Between Asthma and Bronchitis?

Key Takeaways

  • Viral infections are the major cause of acute bronchitis.
  • Sputum (phlegm) is brought up in an asthmatic cough, while a bronchial cough is nonproductive, with no sputum.
  • Treatment of Chronic bronchitis includes the use of steroids, antibiotics, vaccinations and bronchodilators while for asthma, treatment is mainly focused on controlling the disease and using rescue drugs to treat unexpected symptoms.

Bronchitis and Asthma are both inflammatory conditions that affect lungs where a person’s airways swell up, causing them breathing problems.

Asthma, also known as bronchial asthma, is characterized as a chronic condition in which a person’s airways become inflamed, narrow and swollen, and produce extra mucus. Bronchitis, on the other hand, can either be acute, or short term, lasting only for a few weeks, or can be a chronic illness. In the case of bronchitis, the mucous membranes lining a person’s airways become irritated which leads to coughing up of mucus and shortness of breath.

Therefore, Asthma and Bronchitis are different illnesses and as such require different treatments, even though they both share many similar symptoms.

Different Conditions

In severe bronchitis, a person’s airway lining is infected and is usually characterized by a cough that persists for weeks. Chronic bronchitis on the other hand is a serious condition that usually occurs mostly in smokers or those who have been exposed to air pollutants for long periods of time. Chronic bronchitis results in permanent damage to the airways and difficulty in breathing. Viral infections are the major cause of bronchitis, whereas bacterial infection causes only 10% or fewer cases of bronchitis on average. After the infection has disappeared, the airways’ linings return back to normal.

Asthma is characterized as a long-lasting illness that causes inflammation and the swelling of the bronchial tubes through which air enters and leaves the lungs. Most asthmatic patients suffer from frequent episodes of airway obstructions, which are usually reversible and can be treated naturally or through the use of medications.

Signs and Symptoms

Although both asthma and bronchitis share a host of similar symptoms, there are some specific differences between the two conditions.

In the event of an asthma attack, patients experience tightness in the chest, wheezing, and difficulty in breathing, whereas acute bronchitis normally results in a hacking cough, which is dry or contains phlegm. In chronic bronchitis, patients usually depict a more persistent cough which contains phlegm and is accompanied by wheezing.

People suffering from asthma may experience the following symptoms:

  • Cough that occurs at night, during exercise and which may be chronic, dry, with phlegm, mild or severe.
  • Breathing through the mouth, difficulty in breathing, fast breathing, or rapid breathing, shortness of breath at night, or wheezing.
  • Anxiety, chest tightness, fast heart rate, flare or throat irritation.

People suffering from bronchitis may experience the following symptoms:

  • Cough that contains thickened mucus, or phlegm.
  • Cough that is chronic, dry or mild.
  • Chest discomfort or tightness.
  • Headaches, malaise, shortness of breath, or sleeping difficulty.

Diagnosing either asthma or bronchitis is not exclusively based only on the presence of these symptoms as these symptoms are also common in other lung conditions. Chronic bronchitis and asthma both have acute eruptions that can cause severe symptoms and in some cases can prove to be fatal. If your symptoms become severe, or are not alleviated through treatment, then seek medical help immediately.

Diagnosis

Acute bronchitis’s diagnosis is an unexpected cough that is not a result of asthma, a cold, or a severe respiratory infection such as pneumonia. Physical examination of the patient, medical history information, and the presence of symptoms is normally how a doctor reaches a diagnosis that the patient is suffering from bronchitis. A clinical evaluation of patients in some cases, through an X-ray or other tests also helps reach a diagnosis.

Prolonged bronchitis’ diagnosis is a productive cough that continues to occur anywhere from three months and could last upto two years. Methods to determine if a patient suffers from prolonged bronchitis include a pulmonary functionality test and a Chest X-ray. These methods can also be used to arrive at an understanding of the severity of the patient’s condition.

In comparison to bronchitis, asthma is a much more complicated condition to diagnose. To diagnose a person as having asthma, tests are usually conducted to look for obstruction of the airways and examine the ability to exhale under diverse circumstances. After an inhaler is used to clear the airways, the tests are repeated to determine the severity of the patient’s asthma and test the medicine’s effectiveness in reversing the airflow obstruction.

Treatments for Asthma and Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is found to normally clear up on its own. This is because it is usually caused by viral infections that clear up on their own where patients do not need antibiotics to treat the infections. Doctors recommend over the counter medicines to treat viral infections and usually prescribe plenty of rest and intake of fluids. In some cases where patients have incidences of cough which is accompanied by wheezing, inhalers can also be used to clear the airways, although their use is rare. For some patients, humidifiers or steam has also been known to provide relief.

As opposed to acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis requires several approaches to treat it. These approaches include the use of steroids to minimize inflammation, use of antibiotics, or the use of vaccinations to treat pneumonia and influenza. Medications may also be used in addition to these approaches to eliminate excess mucus. To widen airways, the use of bronchodilators is also a recommended method.

Asthma is a long term and chronic disease that has no cure. Treatments for asthma mainly focus on controlling the disease and not curing it.

It is keeping in mind this goal that treatment centers on:

  • Minimizing the occurrence and severity of attacks by regulating exposure to triggers and using rescue drugs to treat unexpected symptoms
  • Regulating primary inflammation and narrowing of the airways
  • Reducing your need for quick relief medicines
  • Helping you maintain good lung function
  • Preventing attacks that result in hospitalization or emergency situations

For ongoing and prolonged control of inflammation, inhaled corticosteroids are also recommended and included in treatment plans, by doctors. Other medicines to control asthma, which are long term, include Theophylline and Leukotriene modifiers. To control and effectively manage your asthma, partner with your doctor to create a treatment plan.

There seems to be a link between asthma and bronchitis, however, people need to seek medical advice to understand what is what and how to cure it.