When people with asthma get viral infections, it can increase their risk of getting asthmatic bronchitis. This is a condition where a person with asthma develops acute bronchitis. Typically, acute bronchitis will go away within a week. However, chronic bronchitis does not go away and can cause severe problems for someone with asthma.
This article will review the causes of acute bronchitis, what signs to look out for, and the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis.
What Is Asthmatic Bronchitis?
Asthma is a lung condition that causes bronchioles or airways to become inflamed. When this happens, they narrow, making it harder to breathe.
Bronchitis is very similar to asthma. It causes inflammation in your bronchioles, but there is a build-up of mucus that also causes them to narrow. The two types of bronchitis are acute and chronic.
- Acute bronchitis is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms get better within a week, though a cough may last for several weeks.
- Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), a lung condition that makes it more difficult to breathe and gets worse over time. Symptoms never go away and must be managed with medication.
When you have asthma, your risk of developing bronchitis increases. Asthmatic bronchitis happens when these conditions occur at the same time. The combination may make symptoms worse than usual.
Signs and Symptoms
Classic symptoms of bronchitis include:
- A productive cough that brings up yellow or green mucus
- Wheezing or whistling sound when breathing
- Chest congestion
- Feeling tired (lethargy)
- Low-grade fever (100 to 101 degrees)
Fever and lethargy are less common in bronchitis. If you are experiencing these symptoms in additional to a productive cough, wheezing, and chest congestion, it may be a sign of pneumonia.
Additional risk factors for developing bronchitis include smoking, allergies, family history of lung disease, and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
At first, asthmatic bronchitis may seem like just a cold. When symptoms get worse, it’s time to see your healthcare provider. You will be asked questions about your symptoms and have a physical examination that will include listening to your breathing.
Sometimes tests are run to verify a diagnosis. They include:
- Lung function test: This checks to see how much air your lungs can hold and how well air moves in and out of your lungs.
- Chest X-ray: This will show if you have pneumonia (when fluid collects in the air sacs in the lungs) or any abnormalities in the lung.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan: You might be given this imaging test if X-ray results are not conclusive. It gives your healthcare provider a more detailed picture of your lungs.
- Blood tests: This will check the amount of gases in your blood, like oxygen and carbon dioxide (oxygen levels may be lower than normal with bronchitis).
While acute bronchitis can go away on its own, asthmatic bronchitis may require treatment. Options include:
- Over-the-counter cough suppressants and pain relievers, such as Advil (ibuprofen)
- Rest and drinking lots of fluids, which help loosen mucus
- Use of a humidifier (the moisture will also help thin mucus)
Always consult your healthcare provider before taking any over-the-counter medications or if symptoms last for more than a week. You may be prescribed antibiotics if you are diagnosed with a bacterial infection.
Get Your Yearly Flu Shot
People with asthma are at a higher risk of experiencing dangerous symptoms of influenza (commonly called "the flu"). Getting your annual flu shot is an important preventive measure to help prevent the flu and keep you from developing serious complications if you end up getting it.
Learn More: Types of Flu Shots
If you have asthma and get a viral infection, pay close attention to any new or worsening symptoms to avoid acute bronchitis. If symptoms keep happening or don’t ever go away, your healthcare provider will see if you have chronic bronchitis or another type of lung disease.
Asthmatic bronchitis is preventable by getting your annual flu shot, not smoking, avoiding secondhand smoke, and practicing good hand hygiene (regularly washing your hands with soap and using hand sanitizer).
Asthmatic bronchitis occurs when someone with asthma develops acute bronchitis. Because both asthma and bronchitis cause airways to become inflamed and narrow, symptoms can be intense.
The two types of bronchitis are acute and chronic. Symptoms include a cough that brings up mucus, fatigue, wheezing, and a low-grade fever. Acute bronchitis often goes away on its own within a week. Chronic bronchitis is a type of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) with a cough that can last several months.
Asthmatic bronchitis is usually acute and will go away after several days. If you still have symptoms after a week, you may have a bacterial infection or other lung condition.
You can treat asthmatic bronchitis with over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen or cough suppressants. Be sure to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Humidifiers also help thin and loosen mucus.
A Word From Verywell
It can be a challenge to manage asthma symptoms during an illness. Be aware that you can develop asthmatic bronchitis during a viral infection. If recognized early, you may only need rest and fluids to help clear up symptoms. Remember to contact your healthcare provider if symptoms last longer than a week or you are getting bronchitis frequently.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the difference between acute and chronic bronchitis?
Acute bronchitis usually comes from a lung infection due to a cold or flu and will clear up in a week. Chronic bronchitis is a lung condition with symptoms that come and go but never completely go away.
How can I prevent asthmatic bronchitis?
The best way to prevent asthmatic bronchitis is to get your yearly flu shot, quit smoking, and ask your healthcare provider if getting a pneumonia shot is right for you.
When do I need to see a healthcare provider right away for asthmatic bronchitis?
If you have trouble catching your breath, talking, symptoms worsen, or have a fever, seek medical care immediately.