Whenever you hear anyone mention respiratory ailments, the first illnesses that might come to your mind are asthma and bronchitis. What some people know is that there is a respiratory condition called bronchiolitis. Some of you may have heard of it before and confused it with bronchitis.

Though the two diseases may appear to have some similarities, they are actually different. So, you might now be wondering what is the difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis? Well, to some, once they understand the difference, they may not really see much of a difference.

Nonetheless, in this article, we will give you a better understanding of their differences by briefly discussing the two diseases in the simplest manner.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a condition that affects the bronchi in your lungs. As an overview, the bronchi can be described as air passageways that are located at the base of your windpipe and carry air to your lungs. They are also responsible for producing mucus which traps dust, pathogens, and dirt to prevent them from entering your lungs.

Bronchitis happens when the mucous membrane of your bronchi is inflamed. This results in excess mucus production that will cause your body to respond naturally with a cough.

Hence, the initial signs that you might have bronchitis are having a persistent cough that usually gets worst at night as well as excessive mucus production. The color of the mucus is usually green or yellow. Other symptoms include a slight fever, fatigue, chest discomfort and chills.

People may develop bronchitis after suffering from the common cold or flu for quite some time and can be one of two types: acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis sometimes heals on its own or with the use of OTC drugs and prescription antibiotics.

On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a bit more serious, and if left untreated, it could lead to life-threatening lung infections. This type of bronchitis is persistent and may require a much more aggressive treatment such as the use of a bronchodilator or steroids to manage it.

Chronic bronchitis can happen in both adults and children. This is more prevalent in persons diagnosed with GERD (gastroesophageal reflux diseases) and asthma.

Certain environmental factors can also increase your risk of developing bronchitis. This includes cigarette smoking, frequent inhalation of second-hand smoke, and living in an area that is heavily industrialized or polluted.

What is Bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis occurs when the smallest airways in the lungs called bronchioles are swollen and obstructed, making breathing difficult. It can also affect both the upper respiratory region such as the nose, mouth, and throat, as well as the lungs or lower respiratory tract. Its effects are usually experienced during the winter months in temperate countries.

The symptoms of bronchiolitis include congestion of the nasal passageway and nasal discharge. In some cases, patients with bronchiolitis may have a mild fever that lasts a couple of days.

In toddlers and children, it may appear like a common cold, but in some cases, it may require hospitalization. To test for bronchiolitis, a doctor may do a nasal swab or an assessment of the blood’s oxygenation levels.

Children are most at risk of developing bronchiolitis, and it is most common in babies who have heart or lung conditions or were born prematurely. It is mostly caused as a result of contracting the respiratory syncytial virus, but other viruses including the adenovirus and rhinovirus can also put you at risk of developing it.

The condition can easily be treated at your home by elevating your baby’s head when they are sleeping. This helps to drain the mucus. You should also give your child lots of fluids especially water to help with dehydration, and warm drinks to help loosen any mucus.

However, if your child is hospitalized because of breathing difficulties or fever, they may be treated with IV fluids and oxygen to get them to eat and breathe properly.

What is the Difference Between Bronchitis and Bronchiolitis?

Bronchitis and bronchiolitis may be confusing terms because they both affect the passageways of air. The symptoms are also similar. What makes it more challenging is that both their symptoms mirror the common cold and flu.

In addition, the prognosis of both diseases is excellent, and in rare cases, once managed, they should not require hospitalization. With that said, below are the key differences between the two diseases.

  • Specific Area and Individuals Affected

Bronchitis affects the area of the larger “tubes” where air passes to reach the lungs while bronchiolitis affects the smaller air sacks in your lungs. Bronchitis can affect anyone, but bronchiolitis usually affects children and toddlers.

  • Complications

If not managed properly, bronchitis can lead to complications such as pneumonia and emphysema which are known to be serious lung problems. In fact, they can cause untimely death. Hence, if you have a recurrent case of bronchitis, you should never ignore it as it could mean that you may have a form of a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Bronchiolitis, on the other hand, is minor and can easily be treated. However, you ought to be vigilant and take it seriously as it tends to affect babies, toddlers and kids whose immune system is not strong enough to fight the viruses that cause the illness. If bronchiolitis is left untreated, it can impair the quality of life by causing recurrent wheezing, and its symptoms can be present until the child’s teenage years.

It can also be fatal if it is not treated but most children are generally able to recover easily at home, but others are not so fortunate and may require hospitalization as they may be suffering some discomfort that can make them irritable and have a constant fever.

Final Words

Although both can be easily treated at home or under the supervision of a medical practitioner, knowing what is the difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis is important so that you can seek medical attention immediately. Do remember that improper and late management can have serious consequences.

Also, prevention is always better, and fortunately, both conditions can be prevented by practicing good hygiene, avoiding cigarette smoke, washing your hands regularly, and ensuring that your children’s toys are sanitized.