Difference Between Bronchitis and Cold

Bronchitis and cold are two respiratory illnesses that can be caused by viral infections. These two conditions share many similar symptoms, making it difficult to differentiate between them. However, there are several distinct differences between bronchitis and cold, and understanding these differences can help you get the right diagnosis and treatment. In this essay, we will discuss the main differences between bronchitis and cold, including their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a common respiratory disorder that occurs when the bronchial tubes become inflamed and produce excess mucus. There are two types of bronchitis: acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by a viral infection and is characterized by a sudden onset of cough, chest congestion, and difficulty breathing.

The symptoms of acute bronchitis usually last for a few days to a week and can be managed with over-the-counter medications and plenty of fluids. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is a long-term condition that is caused by smoking, air pollution, or other irritants. It is characterized by a persistent cough that produces sputum and can last for several months. Chronic bronchitis can lead to complications such as respiratory failure and pneumonia if left untreated.

Symptoms − Bronchitis typically begins with a cough that eventually may produce sputum. There is also often a pain in the chest and a feeling of tightness and dyspnea is often present. The breathing passages are often very congested. In addition, the condition usually lasts for over a week and may even take up to 21 days for a person to fully recover from.

Diagnosis and causes − A clinician can diagnose bronchitis in a person by doing a physical exam and noting the symptoms. Listening to the chest and also doing a chest X-ray may be helpful in ruling out other possible causes of the chest problems. Most often the condition is the result of a viral infection particularly associated with influenza type A and B, and rhinovirus. There are other viruses that can lead to bronchitis, including the parainfluenza and coronavirus. Environmental factors such as smoking can result in bronchitis as can having the illness cystic fibrosis.

What is Common Cold?

The common cold is a viral infection that occurs in the nose and throat i.e. the upper respiratory tract. It is mostly harmless and people recover from it in a span of 10 days. Children younger than 6 are at a greatest risk of common cold, but even adults also suffer from it 2 to 3 times annually. It sspreads easily and is usually self-treatable.

Differences: Bronchitis and Cold

One of the main differences between bronchitis and cold is the severity and duration of the symptoms. Bronchitis is characterized by a persistent cough that lasts for several weeks, whereas a cold usually only causes a mild cough that goes away after a few days. The cough associated with bronchitis is often productive, meaning that it produces mucus or phlegm, whereas the cough associated with a cold is usually dry and non-productive.

In addition to coughing, bronchitis can also cause wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and fatigue. These symptoms are less common with a cold, which typically causes nasal congestion, runny nose, sneezing, sore throat, and headache.

Another difference between bronchitis and cold is the risk factors associated with each condition. People who smoke, have weakened immune systems, or have underlying lung diseases such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are at a higher risk of developing bronchitis. On the other hand, anyone can get a cold, although young children and older adults are more susceptible.

The treatment for bronchitis and cold also differs. Since bronchitis is often caused by a viral infection, antibiotics are usually not effective in treating the condition. Instead, treatment focuses on relieving the symptoms and helping the body fight the infection. This may include taking over-the-counter cough suppressants or expectorants, drinking plenty of fluids, using a humidifier or vaporizer, and getting plenty of rest.

In contrast, there are some antiviral medications that can be used to treat a cold, although they are not always effective. Treatment for a cold usually involves resting, drinking plenty of fluids, and taking over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers, decongestants, and cough suppressants.

The following table highlights the major differences between Bronchitis and Common Cold −





Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining (large and medium-sized airways) of the bronchial tubes, that transport air to and from the lungs. Bronchitis could be either acute or chronic.

The common cold is a viral infection of the upper respiratory tract, that primarily affects the nose and the throat. It can be caused by many different types of viruses.

The medical condition is generally harmless and symptoms usually resolve within 2 weeks.

Diagnostic findings

Cough and possible phlegm production.

Runny nose, sneezing, cough, nasal congestion and sore throat.


This condition is more common in people suffering from asthma or emphysema.

Fatigue or malaise, coughing up thickened mucus and shortness of breath, coughing spells, slight fever (fever of 100°F to 100.4°F (37.7°C – 38°C)) and chills, chest discomfort, back and muscle ache, production of mucus (sputum), that is usually clear, white, green or yellowish-gray in color — rarely, it can be streaked with blood.

Acute bronchitis includes wheezing (a whistling or squeaky sound when one breathes).

Watery eyes, itchiness, or redness, sinus pressure, low-grade fever, generally feeling unwell (malaise), runny nose, swollen lymph nodes, hoarseness, blocked ears, loss of smell or taste, dry cough, watery nasal secretions, body aches, chills, fatigue, stuffy nose, difficulty in breathing and discomfort in chest.


Usually, the viruses that cause common cold also cause bronchitis. However, at many occasions, bacteria are to blamed.

The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Polluted air, mine dust, toxic gases and working around farm animals are some other reasons to cause bronchitis.

Although many types of viruses can result in common cold, rhinoviruses are the major culprit.


In conclusion, bronchitis and cold are both respiratory illnesses that can be caused by viral infections, but they have distinct differences in their causes, symptoms, and treatments.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that often causes a persistent cough, wheezing, and shortness of breath. It is more common in people who smoke or have underlying lung diseases. A cold, on the other hand, is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract and causes symptoms such as nasal congestion, runny nose, and sore throat. It is more common in young children and older adults. Treatment for both conditions focuses on relieving symptoms, but antibiotics are usually not effective for bronchitis.

Updated on: 02-Jun-2023


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