What are the differences between bronchiolitis and bronchitis?


What is the difference between the two conditions?

Although they’re different diseases there are similarities between the two conditions bronchiolitis and bronchitis. Both cause inflammation, such as but they are different in the affected areas of the lungs.

The main distinction between them is that bronchitis is characterized by irritation of airways that connect to the windpipe. In contrast, there is inflammation of the airways that connect to the bronchi, also known as the bronchioles.

Additionally, it is important to note that this condition typically is a problem for infants and toddlers, and it is a prevalent infection that can affect everyone of any age.

Read on to find out more about the differentiators between the two conditions, as well as the reasons, risk factors, and treatments. The article also offers useful guidelines for managing these illnesses.


Many people have difficulty discerning the distinction between bronchiolitis versus bronchitis since the symptoms are identical. But the areas that they affect differ.

The severity of symptoms for both conditions may be very different between mild and extreme.

The most common symptoms of both bronchiolitis, as well as bronchitis, are:

  • a nose that is runny
  • cough
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness
  • fever, typically below 101 deg (38.3degC)


Many factors can cause bronchiolitis and bronchitis due to a variety of causes. The following sections discuss the possible causes in greater specific detail.


Based on the American Lung Association the most common occurrence of bronchiolitis is in children. The root of the problem is usually an infection.

The respiratory syncytial virus is the most prevalent infection in bronchiolitis. While it can be found any time of the year, it’s more prevalent during the winter months.

Acute respiratory condition.

As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source the virus is also the main cause that causes acute asthmatic bronchitis.

However, in certain instances, an infection, like a cold may develop into bronchitis.

More rarely bacteria-related infections can result in bronchitis.

Chronic asthmatic bronchitis

Chronic bronchitis, on other hand, generally is a result of smoking cigarettes or being exposed to environmental pollutants for example, the combustion of biomass fuels and air pollutants. It is also a chronic illness.


Respiratory illnesses, such as those involving bronchiolitis and bronchitis exhibit similar symptoms. This can make it difficult to diagnose.

To this end, the diagnosis can involve determining if there are other lung problems like pneumonia or asthma.

Typically diagnosing both bronchiolitis and bronchitis will require the doctor to analyze the medical history of the patient and taking note of the symptoms.

The doctor will also carry out an exam physical, in which they’ll test the levels of oxygen in the blood and listen for the sounds of the chest. In certain instances, they will also carry out the tests for blood and an X-ray in order to determine the presence of infection.

To determine if bronchiolitis is present the doctor can perform a test, known as the nasopharyngeal swab. It is used to determine the presence of respiratory syncytial viruses. It is the most commonly reported source of infection.


Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis require treatment with a supportive approach. The focus of treatment is treating and lessening the symptoms.

In many instances, the home remedy is all required and most cases are resolved without problems.

The following treatment can also aid.


A person can ease some of the symptoms of this condition through:

  • Using saline nose drops: Over-the-counter saline nose drops may help reduce nasal congestion. Put a few drops of the drops into one nostril. Use the suction of a bulb to eliminate any mucus.
  • Sleeping up straight: Sleeping with the head raised could make it easier for people to breathe.
  • Try oxygen therapy In children who have low oxygen levels that have to be hospitalized, oxygen therapy might assist. ResearchTrustedSource shows that oxygen support using nasal cannulas with a high flow could reduce the resistance of the airway and also deliver airway pressure, which makes breathing easier.


One can ease some of the symptoms of this condition:

  • Drinking plenty of fluids and staying well-hydrated will help to loosen the mucus in the chest area, which makes it easier to breathe.
  • Relaxing The need for a restful sleep is vital in allowing your body to recover.
  • Try saline nasal drops This can aid in relieving some symptoms of bronchitis.
  • Utilizing a humidifier provides humidity into the air releasing mucus and making it more comfortable for an individual to breathe.
  • Take cough medicine: Taking medications to reduce the cough that is associated with bronchitis could be beneficial. In certain instances, the doctor might suggest taking them at night to help you sleep better.
  • Utilizing bronchodilator medications like albuterol help open the airways and help you breathe easier.

Risk factors

Bronchitis and bronchiolitis are two common infections that anyone can develop. But, there are known risk factors that can cause both conditions.


Certain conditions can increase the likelihood to develop bronchiolitis. ResearchTrusted Source has identified the following risk factors for children:

  • premature birth
  • an underlying lung condition
  • congenital heart disease
  • breastfeeding. They are not
  • exposure to smoking tobacco
  • The mother’s asthma
  • an immune system that is weak


The risk factors for bronchitis are:

  • an underlying lung condition, such as asthma
  • getting into the close proximity of someone who is suffering from the flu
  • an immune system that is weak
  • exposure to smoke from cigarettes and air pollution


Bronchitis and bronchiolitis-related complications are uncommon, but they can happen.

Individuals with a weak immune system, people with an underlying lung problem, and those who are older have an increased chance to develop complications.

The following sections discuss possible complications of bronchiolitis and bronchitis.


Hypoxia is a common complication that can result from the condition known as bronchiolitis. The cause of hypoxia is low levels of oxygen within the body. The swelling in the airways could hinder the flow of oxygen to the lungs.

Respiratory problems can also arise from bronchiolitis. If breathing becomes difficult, it may result in respiratory failure or the inability to properly exchange gases such as carbon dioxide, within the lungs.


Bronchitis can cause trouble breathing. In particular, the swelling of the airways could cause breathing difficulties and shortness of breathing.

Pneumonia is also a potential concomitant of the most severe forms of bronchitis. Pneumonia is an infection that affects the lung.

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Similar situations

Other conditions can be characterized by similar symptoms as bronchiolitis or bronchitis. It is crucial to obtain an accurate diagnosis, as the treatment for various conditions.

A few conditions that are similar to the bronchiolitis and bronchitis include:

  • BronchiectasisThis is a long-lasting condition that causes an increase in the thickness of the bronchial walls as a result of chronic inflammation. It is characterized by breathing problems and coughing.
  • Asthma The condition is a chronic lung disease that causes the narrowing and inflammation of airways. The symptoms include wheezing, chest tightness, and coughing.
  • EmphysemaThis is an illness that is caused by an injury to the air sacs of the lungs, referred to as alveoli. Its symptoms include a rise in mucus levels as well as breath shortness and wheezing.


Bronchiolitis and bronchitis are two conditions that can affect the lungs and cause inflammation. But, they both have different effects on the airways. The bronchi are the main target, and bronchiolitis is a condition that affects the bronchioles. They are the smaller airways.