Jessica is a medical writer with an unquenched thirst to discover something new. She believes that medical content should be accessible to everyone and strives to write content that every single person can understand. When Jessica isn’t writing, she can usually be found reading a book with a dog cuddled in her lap. Jessica has a Masters of Engineering degree in Biomedical Engineering.
Medically reviewed by
Amy is a Board Certified Family Health Nurse Practitioner (FNP) with over 15 years of experience working in Hospital Medicine, Urgent Care and Primary Care practices. Amy graduated Thomas Jefferson University with high distinction earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2008, a Master of Science in Nursing in 2010 and a Post Master's Certificate in Adult Gerontology Acute Care (AGAC) in 2014. She was recognized by the Elite American Nurses Association in 2013 for her dedication, achievements and leadership in the field Nursing. She served as a clinical preceptor for a number of Nurse Practitioner students and enjoys teaching the bright minds of future NPs.
If you are feeling fatigued and you can’t stop coughing, then these could be signs you have bronchitis.
Bronchitis is a viral infection of the respiratory system where the bronchial tubes that carry air in and out of your lungs are affected. This causes the build-up of mucus making you cough and struggle to breathe.
While some bronchitis clears up on its own, this illness can also lead to serious health problems, such as pneumonia.
In this practical guide, we take a closer look at the signs and symptoms of bronchitis and the difference to a cold.
Table of Contents
- Signs You Have Bronchitis
- Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis
- Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis
- Causes of Bronchitis
- Who Can Get Bronchitis?
- How to Treat Bronchitis?
- Complications of Bronchitis
- What Is The Difference Between Bronchitis And a Cold?
- What Is The Difference Between Bronchitis And Pneumonia?
Signs You Have Bronchitis
The signs that you may have bronchitis depend on what type of bronchitis you may have. There are a couple of different types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.
Acute bronchitis is a common illness with signs that resemble a cold. It can last for several weeks but usually clears up without any problems.
On the other hand, chronic bronchitis can lead to tightness in the chest, regular coughing and wheezing.
It persistently comes back and could potentially result in pneumonia and other respiratory conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Here are all the symptoms of both chronic and acute bronchitis.
Symptoms of Acute Bronchitis
Acute bronchitis typically comes from a viral infection or a common cold. This type of bronchitis passes within two weeks without any further treatment.
- The signs and symptoms of acute bronchitis are:
- Coughing with phlegm and mucus
- Uncomfortable feeling in the chest
- Sore throat
- Aches around the body
If you notice any of these bronchitis symptoms, then you likely have an acute bronchitis infection.
While this can be treated with over-the-counter pain relief and flu medication, it is important to get a diagnosis from your doctor first and then start treatment.
Symptoms of Chronic Bronchitis
Chronic bronchitis is a persistent respiratory condition that leads to coughing and wheezing. It can last for months or years.
Chronic bronchitis is in the same group of diseases as COPD and other severe respiratory diseases.
People who smoke or have a history of respiratory conditions are at a higher risk of developing chronic bronchitis.
In addition, chronic bronchitis can also be caused by other risk factors, such as aging and exposure to pollutants and lung irritants.
The common signs of chronic bronchitis are:
- Shortness of breath
- A tightness in the chest
- Regular coughing with phlegm and mucus
- A whistling sound while breathing
If you have these symptoms, then make sure that you speak to a healthcare professional as soon as possible because chronic bronchitis can be life threatening.
It can also lead to more severe health conditions, such as pneumonia.
Causes of Bronchitis
Bronchitis is an influenza virus infection that is caused by the same virus as flu and cold. It is usually triggered by various lung irritants, such as cigarette smoke, pollution, toxic gases or dust.
Who Can Get Bronchitis?
Anyone can be affected by bronchitis. However, there are a number of people who have a higher risk, including people who:
- Have COPD, asthma or other breathing conditions
- Smoke actively or are frequently exposed to cigarette smoke
- Have an autoimmune disease or any other inflammatory condition
- Are frequently exposed to air pollutants, such as chemicals or gases
- Have chronic acid reflux (GERD)
These people may get bronchitis more often and they also regularly develop more severe symptoms.
How to Treat Bronchitis?
Before starting bronchitis treatment, it is essential to see a physician who can diagnose the severity of your symptoms.
A doctor will perform a physical exam and check what type of bronchitis you have. Some clinics may also perform a chest X-ray or blood tests.
If you have acute bronchitis, then you can take over-the-counter cough medicine or pain relievers to soothe the symptoms.
It is also a good idea to get plenty of sleep and rest to allow your immune system to recover. You should also drink plenty of water to get yourself hydrated.
Acute bronchitis will clear between 10 and 14 days on its own.
If you are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis, then there is no specific cure. Your doctor may prescribe an inhaler or other medication that helps open your airways making breathing easier.
However, you may still experience regular flare-ups of your chronic bronchitis.
Complications of Bronchitis
Bronchitis can also result in health complications, such as pneumonia. If the infection spreads beyond the aerial tubes in your lungs, then you are at risk of developing pneumonia.
Smokers, the elderly, and people with a weakened respiratory or immune system are at a higher risk of pneumonia.
While mild cases of pneumonia can be treated with antibiotic medication, more severe cases require hospitalization.
What Is The Difference Between Bronchitis And a Cold?
While acute bronchitis and a cold share a number of symptoms, there are some clear differences.
One of the key differences between a common cold and bronchitis is that bronchitis affects the deeper part of the lungs, while a cold only affects the upper respiratory tract.
This means that bronchitis typically makes you cough and a cold affects your nose and sinus system. This is usually the reason why a cold is also considered a mild form of bronchitis.
What Is The Difference Between Bronchitis And Pneumonia?
Although pneumonia and chronic bronchitis have similar symptoms, there are a number of differences between these two respiratory tract conditions.
Pneumonia is also considered a severe form of bronchitis. It affects the alveoli (air sacs) in your lungs. A fungus, bacteria, or virus can cause this.
People with chronic bronchitis can develop pneumonia if their bronchitis is left untreated. People who are prone to respiratory conditions may also experience pneumonia.
This illness requires immediate treatment as it can be life-threatening.
There are a number of possible signs you have bronchitis, from shortness of breath and coughing to wheezing and fatigue. If you struggle to breathe, then it is essential to contact your doctor.
- Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/antibiotic-use/bronchitis.html
- Bronchitis. Cleveland Clinic. Available from: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/3993-bronchitis
- What Causes COPD? American Lung Association. Available from: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/copd/what-causes-copd
- Singh A, Avula A, Zahn E. Acute Bronchitis. [Updated 2023 Feb 13]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK448067/
- Jiang C, Chen Q, Xie M. Smoking increases the risk of infectious diseases: A narrative review. Tob Induc Dis. 2020 Jul 14;18:60. doi: 10.18332/tid/123845. PMID: 32765200; PMCID: PMC7398598.
Content on the DrHouse website is written by our medical content team and reviewed by qualified MDs, PhDs, NPs, and PharmDs. We follow strict content creation guidelines to ensure accurate medical information. However, this content is for informational purposes only and not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information read our medical disclaimer.
Always consult with your physician or other qualified health providers about medical concerns. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it based on what you read on this website.
If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.
DrHouse provides 24/7 virtual urgent care, men’s health, women’s health and online prescriptions.
On-demand virtual visits
24/7 care support
Prescriptions as needed