Carefree M.D. Blog

Bronchiolitis vs. Bronchitis: Key Differences and How to Identify Them

Carefree MD

August 27, 2021 | Blog


A lot of people mix up bronchiolitis with bronchitis because they sound very similar. But, they’re not the same at all.

They’re two distinct types of lung infections.

This informational guide can help you figure out what the differences between bronchiolitis and bronchitis are, how you can identify them, and how you can treat them.

Bronchiolitis vs. Bronchitis: What’s the Difference?

Bronchiolitis is an inflammation and swelling in your bronchioles. These are small airway tubes in your lungs. 

Usually, bronchiolitis only affects very young children. It causes infants and toddlers under 2 difficulty breathing. However, it’s generally not more severe than the common cold.

Bronchitis on the other hand affects older children and adults. This is an inflammation of your trachea or upper bronchial tubes. This condition can be chronic or acute. 

The Symptoms of Bronchiolitis and Bronchitis

Bronchiolitis and bronchitis share similar symptoms. So, identifying which one you have isn’t always easy. Coughing, wheezing, and coughing up mucus are common in both illnesses.

Bronchiolitis Symptoms

  • Dry, raspy cough
  • Wheezing
  • Difficulty feeding, especially in infants
  • Slight fever
  • Runny or stuffy nose

Bronchitis Symptoms

  • Cough
  • Production of mucus
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Chest discomfort or tightness

When to See a Doctor With Bronchiolitis and Bronchitis?

While both conditions usually resolve without medical intervention, in certain cases it’s best to talk to a doctor about them.

When to See a Doctor For Your Child’s Bronchiolitis

If your child has any of these symptoms, call your pediatrician for advice:

  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Breathing rate of 50-60 breaths per minute.
  • Fever of 100.4˚F (38˚C) or higher.
  • Uncharacteristically tiredness or irritability.
  • They haven’t needed a diaper change in 12 hours or more.
  • Eating less than half their typical amount during the last several meals.
  • Bluish color to the face.

When to See a Doctor For Bronchitis

You should talk to a doctor if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Your cough lasts more than 3 weeks
  • Your cough prevents you from sleeping
  • Wheezing
  • You’re coughing up bright yellow or green mucus
  • Blood-tinged mucus

Bronchiolitis vs. Bronchitis: Causes

Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis happen as a result of a viral infection.

For bronchiolitis, this is usually the respiratory syncytial virus, the flu, or the common cold. In some cases, bronchiolitis may also be bacterial.

Acute bronchitis is caused by the common cold or the flu. And the culprit behind chronic bronchitis is smoking cigarettes or being in a lung-irritant-rich environment.

Diagnosing: Bronchiolitis or Bronchitis

The best person who can differentiate between bronchiolitis and bronchitis is a medical professional.

They will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope and evaluate your symptoms. 

If the Doctor Suspects Bronchiolitis:

They’ll most likely order a chest X-ray for your child. They may also run a mucus test and a blood test.

If the Doctor Suspects Bronchitis:

They may also order a chest X-ray to rule out pneumonia and lung cancer. Sometimes, they’ll ask for a sputum test (to examine your mucus) or a pulmonary function test (to examine your lung capacity).

Bronchiolitis vs. Bronchitis: Treatment Options

Both bronchiolitis and bronchitis should be easily treatable with home remedies and over-the-counter medications. Plenty of rest and fluids is the best way to go in both cases.

However, if bronchitis and bronchiolitis turns more serious, the treatment options differ entirely.

Bronchiolitis Treatment

  • Putting a pillow under your child’s mattress can raise their head as they sleep, making it easier for them to breathe.
  • Encourage your child to drink plenty of fluids.
  • If your child is hospitalized, they’ll receive oxygen and IV fluids.

Bronchitis Treatment

  • If the bronchitis is caused by a bacterial infection, you’ll receive antibiotics.
  • Cough medicine to help you sleep.
  • Steroids to reduce inflammation.
  • Inhaled medication to open up your airways.
  • If you have chronic bronchitis a breathing exercise program can be beneficial.

Talk to a Doctor About Your Bronchiolitis or Bronchitis Symptoms

While neither bronchiolitis and bronchitis are cause for great concern at first, left untreated when they become severe can have consequences.

Bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, and recurrent bronchitis may mean that you have chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. And if you don’t find treatment for your child’s serious bronchiolitis, it may reduce their quality of life.

That’s why it’s best to talk to a doctor about these symptoms.

Fortunately, talking to a doctor using your phone or computer has never been easier. With a Carefree MD Card, you can get unlimited access to a 24/7 doctor on call.

For just $17.95/month, you can speak to a state-licensed physician, get prescriptions sent to your local pharmacy when medically necessary, and receive personalized advice on treatment options.

Experience the ease and comfort of telemedicine when you sign up for a Carefree MD membership today!



The Carefree MD blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed doctor or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

The Carefree MD Card is not insurance and Carefree MD is not an insurance provider