Acute Bronchitis

Is It Asthma Or Acute Bronchitis?

Chronic Cough
Chronic Cough. Photo © Photodisc

While cough is one of the common signs of poor asthma control, it can also be a sign of acute bronchitis. In nonasthmatics, acute bronchitis is one of the most common conditions that patients seek care for. While asthmatics can also develop acute bronchitis, it is important to make sure symptoms are not primarily poorly controlled asthma.

What Is Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis occurs when there is swelling and inflammation of the upper airways of the lung.

It most commonly occurs as the result of a viral respiratory tract infection from the common cold or influenza .

Less commonly, patients with waning immunity from pertussis vaccination may present with atypical symptoms that are initially mistaken for acute bronchitis. If you have recently had a pertussis outbreak in your community or if you cannot remember your last pertussis vaccination, you may want to check out your symptoms with your doctor.

Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis

In a non-asthma patient, bronchitis is characterized by sudden onset of cough and may be associated with increases in sputum. So if your asthma has been well controlled, your symptoms may be that of an acute bronchitis episode. If your symptoms have not been well controlled, the symptoms may represent a worsening of your asthma. For these reasons, it is important that you have and regularly follow your asthma action plan as well as regularly monitoring your asthma.

In general, patients with acute bronchitis do not feel well, but they generally lack systemic symptoms. The symptoms or more commonly described as being irritating rather than laying in your bed sick as you might with flu or pneumonia.

Acute bronchitis is generally not associated with fever. The presence of fever more likely indicates a diagnosis of pneumonia or influenza.

In most patients with acute bronchitis, cough resolves within 10 - 14 days.

Chest pain from repetitive coughing and stretching of the chest muscles is common, and sometimes requires the use of over the counter pain medication or cough suppressants. Patients also describe sore throat and congestion commonly.

It would not be uncommon for asthma patients to experience declines in peak flows while having symptoms. Additionally, asthmatics what notice hyperactive airways for up to 5–6 weeks following an acute bronchitis episode.


Following the asthma action plan is important to make sure that your asthma does not worsen. In addition to your regular asthma treatment, you will be primarily be treating symptoms. You will want to prevent dehydration by increasing fluids. Your doctor may recommend over the counter pain medications for headache, sore throat and chest pain related to coughing. Over the counter medications will also relieve allergy symptoms.

However, talk with your doctor before taking cough suppressants s as they are generally not recommended and have not been demonstrated as useful in research studies. Humidified air will not harm you and help improve congestion, runny nose and other symptoms.

Despite patients commonly receiving antibiotics for acute bronchitis, it is unlikely that they will help or bring your symptoms to a resolution faster.

Can I Infect Others

Yes. When you have acute bronchitis, you can infect others and make them sick. Washing your hands frequently is one of the most effective strategies in preventing the transmission of bacteria or viruses that are causing your episode of acute bronchitis. If you are unable to wash your hands, an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is also a good option.

Additionally, covering your cough with your elbow instead of your hands when sneezing or coughing prevents the germs from getting on your hands and having more risk of transmission to someone else.

If you use a tissue when coughing or sneezing make sure you throw the tissue away and then wash or sanitize your hands.

Avoiding Another Episode of Acute Bronchitis

In addition to the suggestions in the previous section related to washing your hands, you can not smoke and avoid situations where you will be exposed to second-hand smoke. Avoid others if they are sick and make sure you get your yearly flu vaccination.

What Is Your Biggest Asthma Problem?

We want to help you get control of your asthma. I want to hear about your biggest asthma problem so that we can try to help you develop a solution or better understand how to help. You are probably not the only one with the problem. Take a few minutes describing your problem so we can develop a solution together.


  1. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Expert Panel Report 3 (EPR3): Guidelines for the Diagnosis and Management of Asthma Accessed on May 23, 2015.
  2. Bolser DC. Cough suppressant and pharmacologic protussive therapy: ACCP evidence-based clinical practice guidelines. Chest. 2006;129(1 Suppl):238S.
  3. Evertsen J, Baumgardner DJ, Regnery A, Banerjee I. Diagnosis and management of pneumonia and bronchitis in outpatient primary care practices.
    Prim Care Respir J. 2010;19(3):237.