The Difference Between Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis

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Bronchitis and bronchiolitis may have similar sounding names but they are not the same illness. They both affect airways that lead to the lungs, but bronchitis is more common in older children and adults while bronchiolitis primarily affects young children.

What Is Bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is an infection that attacks the bronchial tubes which lead to the lungs.

It occurs when there is swelling and mucus in the airway. It most commonly follows another upper respiratory infection such as a cold or the flu. Bronchitis typically affects adults and older children.

Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus and will go away on its own within a few weeks. Although the frequent coughing may be annoying, it is not often life-threatening.

Treatment for bronchitis most often involves doing what you can to relieve the symptoms. Antibiotics may be prescribed if your health care provider believes your bronchitis is caused by a bacteria, but will not help if your bronchitis is caused by a virus. Although it can be difficult to "wait it out", don't push your physician for antibiotics if he tells you your illness is viral. Taking antibiotics when they aren't necessary only leads to antibiotic resistance, which is a serious health threat to all of us.

What Is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis affects mainly young children and can have a variety of different causes, most of them viral.

It occurs when there is swelling in the bronchioles. These are the smallest airways in the lungs. It is one of the most common causes of wheezing in children. Bronchiolitis may be dangerous and cause difficulty breathing in young children. It is often a more serious illness for young children than bronchitis is for adults.

Bronchiolitis occurs mainly in children under 2 years old. It is most common in infants between 3 and 6 months of age. If you have a young child that is coughing frequently, contact her Pediatrician to have her evaluated. Treatment for bronchiolitis depends on the suspected cause. Although antibiotics are not often necessary, other medications, such as nebulizer treatments or steroids may be. These medications can help your child breathe more easily while she tries to recover from the illness.

These two illnesses have some similarities but aren't the same. Bronchitis mainly affects adults and the most common symptom is a cough that can last for weeks. Bronchiolitis affects young children and is often characterized by wheezing and difficulty breathing due to swelling in the airways leading to the lungs.

Be sure you know the differences between bronchitis and bronchiolitis before they affect you or your loved ones.


"Bronchiolitis". Health Issues - Conditions. 21 Nov 15. American Academy of Pediatrics.

"Bronchiolitis" MedlinePlus. 22 Aug 13. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.

"Acute Bronchitis". MedlinePlus. 12 Jan 16. US National Library of Medicine. US Department of Health and Human Services. National Institutes of Health.