Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis: What's the Difference?

Wintertime is prime time for respiratory infections. Two of the most common are bronchitis and bronchiolitis. They sound similar because they both affect the lungs, but they’re two very different illnesses. Understanding the differences between the two will help you recognize the symptoms, understand treatment options and know when and where to seek medical care.

Bronchitis symptoms and treatment

Bronchitis is a condition that affects a specific part of the lungs called the bronchi, the primary airways that lead from your windpipe into your lungs. When the walls of the bronchi get inflamed, the airways narrow and mucus production ramps up. Bronchitis can affect children and adults, and can be caused by anything from a virus, such as a cold or flu, to exposure to cigarette smoke.  

Symptoms may include:

•    Cough – wet or dry
•    Fever
•    Body aches
•    Sore ribs or stomach
•    Headache
•    Fatigue
•    Sore throat

If your symptoms don’t seem serious, you can probably recover from bronchitis on your own at home. Because bronchitis is a virus, antibiotics won’t help. But there are ways to ease the discomfort:

•    Get plenty of rest.
•    Drink lots of fluids, but stay away from caffeine and alcohol.
•    Take acetaminophen or ibuprofen to lower fever, reduce inflammation and relieve pain. Never give a child aspirin to relieve pain or fever. Aspirin has been linked to Reye Syndrome, a rare but serious condition that causes swelling in the liver and brain.
•    Use a humidifier to help loosen mucus and ease breathing.
•    Use a cough medicine that includes guaifenesin, an expectorant that helps loosen congestion in your chest and throat. (Ask your pharmacist for a recommendation.) 
•    Cough when you need to, even if it feels uncomfortable or embarrassing. To heal, you need to clear that gunk out of your bronchial tubes—the sooner the better. 
•    If you smoke, cut down on the number of cigarettes you smoke, or stop altogether to limit bronchial tube damage and heal faster.

A healthy person should recover from bronchitis within a week. If symptoms worsen or go on longer, don’t hesitate to visit an urgent care clinic or make an appointment with your doctor.

If left untreated, bronchitis can turn into pneumonia, especially among the elderly and very young. And because bronchitis and pneumonia symptoms can seem similar, it can be tough to figure out what you’re dealing with. In addition to cough and fever, pneumonia symptoms include chills, shortness of breath or shallow breathing, loss of appetite, fatigue, nausea and sharp chest pain that worsens when you cough or breathe deeply.  

Don’t take a chance if you’re not sure. Your Immediate Clinic urgent care provider will be able to assess your health and determine the best treatment options.

Bronchiolitis symptoms and treatment

Bronchiolitis is a specific lung infection that affects young children and infants, especially under the age of 1. 

Bronchiolitis causes inflammation of the smaller airways called the bronchioles, and causes symptoms similar to the common cold, including: 

•    Mild coughing
•    Nasal congestion and discharge
•    Decreased appetite 
•    Fever
•    Wheezing that can last up to a week after the illness disappears

Bronchiolitis can sometimes cause breathing difficulty. If that happens, you should take your child to an urgent care clinic right away. In severe cases where the infant or child appears to be in respiratory distress, an ER evaluation may be necessary. If your child develops blue-colored skin, seek emergency care immediately.

While there’s no cure for bronchiolitis, you can make your child more comfortable while the virus runs its course. Make sure he or she drinks plenty of fluids. To relieve congestion, use saline nose drops, or bulb suctioning for infants. If your child has a fever, it’s best to consult your health care provider first before treating it. If your child is older than 6 months, they may suggest acetaminophen or ibuprofen to help relieve their discomfort.

Otherwise, just monitor your little one closely while they recover, which should take two to five days. 

Although bronchiolitis is not known to develop into pneumonia, in rare cases it may be accompanied by pneumonia. If this occurs, the pneumonia might need to be treated separately. See a health care provider at our urgent care or your primary care provider for an evaluation if symptoms are not improving. 

Urgent care at your convenience

If you or a family member get hit with bronchitis or bronchiolitis this winter, rest easy. You should be on the mend within a matter of days. If you’re not, or your symptoms get worse, your local urgent care center is a convenient option to get the care you need, when you need it. 

The providers at Immediate Clinic will get to the bottom of what’s making you sick and help make you feel as comfortable as possible while you recover. Schedule an appointment online or walk in to an Immediate Clinic near you. We’re here for you every day, 8 am to 8 pm, including holidays.

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