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The 2 Types of Bronchitis: How to Tell Them Apart


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  • Acute bronchitis occurs after a person is infected with a cold or virus such as the influenza A and B viruses, adenovirus, rhinovirus or parainfluenza virus
  • If the disease is already severe, certain treatment protocols might already be recommended, such as lung volume reduction surgery, oxygen therapy, pulmonary rehabilitation program and bronchodilators

You or someone you know can be diagnosed with either acute or chronic bronchitis. While both diseases share some characteristics, there are major differences that set them apart from each other. These are critical in not only determining the type of disease that a patient has, but also in choosing the best way to recuperate from the disease.1

Analyzing Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis occurs after a person is infected with a cold2 or virus such as the influenza A and B viruses, adenovirus, rhinovirus or parainfluenza virus.

However, bacterial infections from strains like the Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, Bordetella pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrahalis can trigger this disease as well.3 Long-term exposure to irritants such as cigarette or tobacco smoke, dust, fumes, vapors and polluted air can also lead to acute bronchitis.4 Patients often show symptoms such as:5

A cough that lasts for 10 days and contain clear or colored mucus

Shortness of breath

Low- or high-grade fever that can be a sign of a secondary infection like pneumonia

Chest pain

Sore throat because of persistent coughing

Chest tightness


People of all ages are prone to have acute bronchitis, although the disease affects mostly children who are younger than 5 years old. Of these two types of bronchitis, chronic bronchitis' duration is shorter: it lasts for only for a few days, or up to three weeks.6,7 Even better, most cases of acute bronchitis actually resolve on their own without needing extra treatment, provided that patients get adequate rest, drink plenty of fluids and eat the right food.8

What Is Chronic Bronchitis?

Just like acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis occurs when there is an inflammation and infection of the bronchial tubes. However, it is a serious and ongoing sickness, as the name implies, that can be very devastating to a person's health.9 Unlike acute bronchitis that's caused by viral or bacterial infections, cigarette smoking is said to be the main culprit of chronic bronchitis. It's estimated that over 90 percent of chronic bronchitis patients have a history of smoking.10

Inhaling cigarette smoke, even just for a short while, can temporarily paralyze the cilia.11 These are special hairs found along the airways that are coated with a sticky mucus that traps germs and other foreign agents that you breathe in.12 As these hairs become exposed to large amounts of cigarette smoke, they can become severely impaired, disrupting proper function and causing further damage to the lungs.13

Exposure to other lung irritants such as secondhand smoke, polluted air, toxic gases and chemical or industrial fumes can also pave the way for chronic bronchitis. Having a history of lung infections can also predispose you to chronic bronchitis, leading to further lung damage and exacerbating chronic bronchitis symptoms.14

Chronic bronchitis, compared to acute bronchitis, lasts for a longer period of time, since a major symptom is a persistent cough that lasts longer than three months, and produces incredibly large amounts of yellow, green or white mucus. People with chronic bronchitis may also experience the following:15,16

Breathing difficulties

Wheezing that worsens during any type of physical activity




Chest discomfort

Sinus congestion

Bad breath

The symptoms mentioned above could get better or worse at different times of the year.17 People who are most prone to chronic bronchitis are those who are 45 years old and above, although the disease can affect anyone.18 If you or someone you know exhibits these symptoms, consulting a physician is an absolute must, since there are complications which could arise from chronic bronchitis, such as:19

Dyspnea (shortness of breath20) that may be severe

Respiratory failure


Cor pulmonale (enlargement and weakness of the right heart ventricle due to lung disease)

Pneumothorax (collection of air or gas in the lungs resulting in lung collapse)

Polycythemia (abnormally high concentration of red blood cells needed to carry oxygen)

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)


Chronic advancement of the disease


Unfortunately, chronic bronchitis does not resolve easily like acute bronchitis. If the disease is already severe, certain treatment protocols might already be recommended, such as lung volume reduction surgery,21 oxygen therapy, a pulmonary rehabilitation program and bronchodilators.22


Introduction: Bronchitis

What Is Bronchitis?

Is Bronchitis Contagious?

Types of Bronchitis

Bronchitis Causes

Bronchitis Symptoms

Bronchitis Treatment

Bronchitis in Children

Bronchitis During Pregnancy

Bronchitis Prevention

Bronchitis Diet

Bronchitis FAQ


Is Bronchitis Contagious?


Bronchitis Causes

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