Acute bronchitis refers to inflammation of the small tubes that carry air into the lungs, called bronchi. When the bronchi are irritated or infected, they swell, and mucous forms inside, leading to the symptoms of bronchitis. Asthma is also a disease involving inflammation of the airways, so telling it apart from bronchitis can be challenging. But there are a few signs and symptoms that help you tell the difference between the two.
Visit your physician. He will ask pertinent questions and perform a physical exam that will help determine whether it's bronchitis or asthma affecting you.
Determine your symptoms. Bronchitis usually presents initially like a cold, with a sore throat, runny nose and a mild fever, followed by a cough developing after a few days. You may hear a mild wheeze with wet coughing, and shortness of breath may also be present. Asthma episodes, on the other hand, don't always present with the initial cold symptoms, and typically cause more wheezing than bronchitis. Airway spasms are also associated much more with asthma than bronchitis. Also, coughs tend to be drier with asthma attacks than with bronchitis.
Watch the duration of symptoms. Bronchitis is typically an acute process, and most people recover within 10 days. Asthma, on the other hand, tends to be a chronic condition. If you see repeated episodes of chest pain and difficulty breathing over an extended period of time, then asthma is more likely to be your culprit.
See how you respond to treatment. Acute bronchitis responds well to antibiotics. If symptoms persist well past the normal healing time, then it may be asthma. Asthma often responds well to the use of inhalers.