The difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis

By: Osler Health International
Posted on: 29 Aug 2022

The difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis

If your child gets a persistent cough, you may be convinced he or she might’ve caught COVID-19, or that your child has been reinfected. But a cough that doesn’t go away, wheezing and lethargy are also signs of bronchiolitis and bronchitis.

Bronchiolitis is a lung infection that targets the smaller airways in the lungs, which are also referred to as bronchioles. Conversely, Bronchitis is a lung infection that targets the bronchi, or the larger airways in the lungs. 

How to tell if it’s bronchitis or bronchiolitis?

Telling the difference between bronchitis and bronchiolitis can be challenging. This is because the symptoms of both respiratory infections are not only similar to one another, but also share similarities to other things like pneumonia, asthma and even COVID-19. 

Symptoms of Bronchitis Symptoms of Bronchiolitis
  • Frequent coughing which produces mucus
  • Fatigue
  • A wheezing sound when breathing
  • A fever 
  • Shortness of breath
  • Runny nose
  • Dry lips
  • Diapers which stay dry for more than 6 hours
  • Slight fever (under 38.3 Celsius)
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Rapid or shallow breathing

It’s important to note that while younger children are more susceptible to bronchiolitis, older children and adults are more likely to have bronchitis instead.

Who is at risk for developing bronchitis and bronchiolitis?

Bronchiolitis is a very common infection in infants and children under two years of age. Symptoms may last over seven to ten days, although the coughing may persist for a few weeks following general recovery. Bronchiolitis may initially appear to be similar to a cold. Coughing and breathlessness may follow after, which can result in interrupted sleep or feeding. 

The United States National Library Of Medicine cites children who have chronic lung illnesses, or congenital heart disease, as well as children who were born prematurely among those at the highest risk of severe bronchiolitis

Symptoms of bronchitis are similar to that of bronchiolitis, with the only difference being the production of mucus caused by inflamed bronchioles. Children with acute bronchitis are at risk for developing pneumonia, although most children are able to make a full recovery without any complications. 

On the other hand, adults with chronic bronchitis are most likely habitual cigarette smokers. Unlike bronchitis, chronic bronchitis is not contagious since its origin is not viral in nature but due to long-term irritation of the airways. 

When should I get help for bronchitis or bronchiolitis?

If you or your family member frequently feel unwell due to coughing or suffer from bouts of breathlessness, you should consider seeing a doctor. If your child has been experiencing symptoms for an extended period of time without any improvement, see a doctor without delay as respiratory infections in children can be especially dangerous. 

A doctor will not only be able to diagnose the cause of your concerns but also prescribe medications that can offer relief from the symptoms. This will allow you or your child to get much-needed rest, which may help speed up recovery.

Seeing a private doctor in Singapore usually yields faster results as doctors working in public settings, such as polyclinics, often have to contend with a much heavier workload over a shorter period of time. If you are looking for a private doctor due to health issues concerning your children, don’t hesitate to visit us.

At Osler Clinic, we have dedicated doctors who see very young patients, older patients and everybody in between. Our centrally located clinics at Star Vista and Raffles Hotel Arcade are easily accessible via public or private transport. If you need help scheduling an appointment, you can contact us by giving us a call or emailing us. Want to learn more about other important health topics? Learn about how seasonal haze in Singapore can affect your respiratory system, or about the cause of eczema in children.

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