Differences Between Bronchitis and Asthma

Bronchitis and asthma are different diseases, which are often confused by laypeople. It is very common to see people calling bronchial asthma, as both terms were synonymous. Similarly, terms such as bronchial asthma and allergic bronchitis are also often used to describe clinical presentations that are actually asthma.

Anatomy of lungs
Anatomy of lungs

Bronchial asthma, acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis are three different diseases which have causes distinct pathophysiology and treatments but can cause very similar signs and symptoms.

In this article we will stick to just the differences and similarities of bronchitis and asthma.

What is asthma?

Asthma is an inflammatory disease of the small airways of the lungs (bronchioles), cause unknown, but important genetic component. The lungs of asthmatic patient is highly sensitive and develops bronchospasm attacks when exposed to certain environmental stimuli, such as pollen, smoke, dust, dust mites, cold air, etc.

During an asthma attack, there is an inflammatory reaction of the lung airways, caused by the same chemical mediators that appear in allergic processes. With inflammation, the bronchioles become swollen and contract, obstructing the passage of air for breathing. The bronchospasm of asthma is temporary and can be reversed with drugs or spontaneously with time.

The main symptoms of asthma are shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing (wheezing).

What is acute bronchitis?

Acute bronchitis is transient inflammation of the bronchi, larger airways, caused usually by a viral infection such as influenza.

The primary symptom of acute bronchitis is a persistent cough, sputum or dried, which can last up to 20 days. Fever is not common and is used to distinguish the framework of other lung infections, such as pneumonia.

Some patients may have wheezing by bronchospasm, less intense than in asthma, but easily perceived by auscultation of the lungs with a stethoscope.

The acute bronchitis frame is self-limiting and improves spontaneously after a few weeks.

What is chronic bronchitis?

Chronic bronchitis is a persistent inflammatory condition of the airways, caused by prolonged exposure to harmful substances such as tobacco. Cigarette smoke irritates and causes destruction and subsequent scarring of the airway wall and lung tissue around it, leading to a permanent reduction in the diameter of the bronchioles.

Chronic bronchitis along with emphysema, is part of a group called COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a progressive disease and poor prognosis, especially those who continue smoking.

The main symptoms of chronic bronchitis are a cough with lush sputum, shortness of breath, bronchospasm (wheezing) and fatigue to perform activities.

Differences between acute bronchitis and asthma

Acute bronchitis is usually a single frame in the life of the patient, coughing his most characteristic symptom. Since asthma is a chronic disorder, with improvement of alternate periods of crisis, in which the difficulty breathing and wheezing are important symptoms. A characteristic feature of asthma is wheezing during expiration because the air is more difficult to get out of the lungs than to enter.

Asthma attacks can be, as well as acute bronchitis triggered by a viral respiratory infection, bronchitis but does not arise spontaneously after contacting simple as dust or pollen stimuli.

Differences between chronic bronchitis and asthma

The symptoms of chronic bronchitis and asthma can be very similar. Often, which sets are epidemiological factors since asthma is most common in children and chronic bronchitis often occur in older adults, smoking for many years.

Asthma is a non-progressive disease and may disappear after a few years alone. Except for the most serious cases, patients with asthma presents well outside periods of exacerbation. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a progressive disease in which the patient is getting worse over the years, to the point of having permanent breathing difficulty and need to receive supplemental oxygen, even at rest.

In asthma, the disease is restricted to the airways and rarely cause permanent damage to these structures. In chronic bronchitis, there is destruction and scar formation not only in the airways, but also in lung tissue.

The asthma cough is usually dry or with little expectoration. The cough of bronchitis is typically persistent phlegm.

The reduction in the diameter of the airways of asthma shows great reversal after administration of bronchodilators, the famous firecrackers asthmatics. In chronic bronchitis, the use of bronchodilators have only partial action because the bronchi and bronchioles have destroyed unresponsive to the drug.

When the patient has onset asthma in adulthood, the distinction between the two diseases may be more difficult, especially because many patients with chronic bronchitis may also have asthma.

Why is it important to differentiate bronchitis asthma?

The distinction between bronchitis and asthma is important, not only because of preventing the patient is labeled with a disease that does not have, but mainly because the treatment and the long-term prognosis of these diseases is different. Asthma in most cases is a much more benign disease chronic bronchitis.

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