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Controlling Severe Asthma

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What Is Asthmatic Bronchitis?

Medically Reviewed By Nick Villalobos, MD
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Asthmatic bronchitis refers to the development of acute bronchitis in a person with asthma. Acute bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation in the bronchi, which are the passageways that move air into and out of the lungs. This inflammation results in respiratory congestion and shortness of breath. Asthma is a condition that causes inflammation in the airways, resulting in shortness of breath, coughing, chest tightness, and wheezing.

Acute bronchitis is also known as a chest cold. Acute bronchitis usually happens because of viral upper respiratory infections.

If you have asthma, your risk of acute bronchitis is higher because of increased sensitivity to airway irritation and inflammation. Your risk of acute bronchitis is also higher if you smoke or have exposure to air pollution.

Read on to learn more about asthmatic bronchitis, including what it is, what symptoms it can cause, and how to treat it.

What causes asthmatic bronchitis?

a person with asthmatic bronchitis is using an inhaler
Flamingo Images/Stocksy United

Asthmatic bronchitis refers to the occurrence of acute bronchitis in conjunction with asthma. Asthma is a condition that affects the lungs and can cause:

  • shortness of breath
  • chest tightness
  • wheezing

Acute bronchitis is a respiratory condition that causes inflammation in the bronchi, which are the passageways that move air into and out of the lungs.

This inflammation results in respiratory congestion and shortness of breath. The most common cause of asthmatic bronchitis is a viral upper respiratory infection.

What is the difference between asthma and bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an infection in the bronchial tubes. Asthma is a long-term condition that causes the airways to narrow due to swelling in the muscle and membrane.

Bronchitis is a “fixed” inflammatory process that will always occur following infection. Asthma is a “reversible” inflammatory process that causes narrowing of the airway, as you can reverse it with certain inhaled medications.

Therefore, people with asthma have bronchial tubes that are more sensitive than those of people without asthma. This means that they are more likely to get infections in their bronchial tubes, or bronchitis.

Bronchitis, in turn, can also worsen the symptoms of asthma that a person may already experience.

What are the symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis?

Symptoms of asthmatic bronchitis are related to inflammation in the lung’s airways and can vary in intensity among individuals.

Asthmatic bronchitis can cause both symptoms of bronchitis and worsened symptoms of asthma.

You may experience asthmatic bronchitis symptoms daily or just once in a while. At times, any of these asthma symptoms can be severe.

Symptoms of bronchitis with asthma include:

  • coughing, either with or without mucus
  • chest pain or pressure
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • wheezing

When to seek medical care

If you believe that you are exhibiting any of the symptoms of asthma and do not yet have a diagnosis, contact your doctor as soon as possible.

If you have bronchitis and your symptoms are still present after 2–3 weeks, contact your doctor.

In some cases, asthmatic bronchitis can be life threatening. Seek immediate medical care by calling 911 if you or someone you are with has any of these life threatening symptoms:

  • bluish coloration of the lips or fingernails
  • a change in the level of consciousness or alertness, such as passing out or becoming unresponsive
  • respiratory or breathing problems, such as shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, labored breathing, wheezing, not breathing, or choking

What are the risk factors for asthmatic bronchitis?

A number of factors that occur in conjunction with asthma increase the risk of bronchitis. Not all people with asthma who are exposed to risk factors will get asthmatic bronchitis, however.

Infection is usually the cause of asthmatic bronchitis.

Risk factors or triggers for the exacerbation of asthma include:

  • air pollution
  • allergies
  • animal dander
  • dust
  • jobs associated with livestock, grain, textiles, or coal mining
  • pollen
  • preexisting lung disease
  • smoke exposure
  • upper respiratory infections

How do doctors treat asthmatic bronchitis?

Treatment for asthmatic bronchitis begins with seeking medical care from your doctor. The goal of treating asthmatic bronchitis is to reduce asthma-related bronchospasm and reduce congestion from acute bronchitis.

Asthma medications include long-term asthma control medications to prevent asthma attacks, which is especially important in the case of acute bronchitis.

Short-term asthma medications help in the event of an asthma attack.

Doctors do not tend to treat acute bronchitis with antibiotics, as the cause is usually a viral infection. Expectorants can help thin mucus in the airways, making it easier to cough it up.

Long-term asthma control medications

You can inhale or ingest long-term asthma control medications each day to control and prevent symptoms.

Long-term control medications include:

  • inhaled corticosteroids, such as budesonide (Pulmicort Flexhaler, Pulmicort Respules), flunisolide (Aerobid Aerosol), fluticasone propionate (Flovent HFA), and triamcinolone acetonide (Azmacort Inhalation Aerosol)
  • biologics, such as omalizumab (Xolair), which is an injectable antibody that can control asthma symptoms in people with allergy-induced asthma whose symptoms do not improve with inhaled corticosteroids
  • leukotriene modifier medications, such as montelukast (Singulair)
  • long-acting beta-agonist medications, such as salmeterol (Serevent Diskus) and formoterol (Foradil)

Quick-relief asthma medications

“Rescue,” or quick-relief, medications treat acute symptoms. Generally, you inhale them through a device called an inhaler.

Rescue medications are used on the spot when you feel a sudden onset of asthma symptoms.

Fast-acting asthma medications include short-acting beta-agonists (bronchodilators), such as albuterol sulfate (ProAir, Proventil, Ventolin, AccuNeb inhalation solution) and levalbuterol (Xopenex).

Treatment options for acute bronchitis

Options for the treatment of acute bronchitis in individuals who have asthma include:

  • analgesics, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), naproxen (Aleve), and aspirin (for adults only)
  • antibiotic therapy, if the infection is likely the result of bacteria
  • bronchodilators through a nebulizer or metered-dose inhaler, if wheezing is present
  • chest physical therapy, or postural drainage, which can promote coughing up mucus
  • humidifier use, which can increase moisture in the air

What you can do to improve your asthmatic bronchitis

In addition to reducing your exposure to asthmatic bronchitis triggers, you can also improve asthmatic bronchitis by:

  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • getting plenty of rest
  • taking all medications as prescribed

How can I prevent asthmatic bronchitis?

You may be able to lower your risk of asthmatic bronchitis by:

  • getting all recommended pneumococcal and flu vaccines
  • practicing good hygiene by regularly washing your hands to prevent the spread of infection
  • refraining from smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • taking all medications as prescribed, even if you do not have symptoms

Summary

Bronchitis, or a chest cold, means that there is an infection in the bronchial tubes in the airways. Asthma is a long-term condition that causes the airways to narrow due to swelling in the muscle and membrane. People with asthma have a higher risk of developing bronchitis, and bronchitis can worsen the symptoms of asthma.

You can help prevent asthmatic bronchitis by staying up to date with the relevant vaccines, practicing proper hygiene, and avoiding smoking. Also, you should never make changes to your medication regimen without contacting a doctor first.

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Medical Reviewer: Nick Villalobos, MD
Last Review Date: 2022 Apr 28
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.