What Is Asthmatic Bronchitis?

Asthmatic bronchitis is a term that is most often used to describe the occurrence of both asthma and bronchitis simultaneously. It's not technically a real medical term and has at times been used to describe other conditions but since it is most often used when someone who has asthma is then diagnosed with bronchitis as well that is the medical phenomenon that this article will cover.

Asthma and bronchitis are very similar respiratory conditions that can be linked in the sense that one of these conditions may predispose you to the other. Both conditions are characterized by inflammation of the airways and have similar causes and symptoms as well. Since the two respiratory conditions are so similar it may be tricky to tell the difference between asthma, bronchitis, or if you have both.

Man Using Asthma Inhaler

Science Photo Library / Getty Images

Asthmatic Bronchitis Symptoms

Bronchitis and asthma are both respiratory conditions that can occur independently of each other and have very similar symptoms. However, a few differences such as a fever (which does not usually occur in asthma alone) or the presence of mucus or phlegm may be clues that you have asthmatic bronchitis. The following symptoms may occur:

  • Difficulty breathing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest tightness
  • Fever
  • Coughing with or without mucus

Causes

The causes of asthmatic bronchitis are not always completely understood but the underlying causes of both asthma and bronchitis overlap. Both asthma and bronchitis can be caused, triggered by, or made worse by certain substances that irritate the airways including cigarette smoke, inhaled chemicals, air pollution, and allergens.

Acute bronchitis is often caused by a respiratory infection (usually a virus). People with asthma may be more susceptible to inflammation of the airways. Their airways are typically more reactive than those of someone who does not have underlying asthma and who may acquire a respiratory infection.

Diagnosis

Your doctor may suspect asthmatic bronchitis if you have an underlying history of asthma accompanied by a fever, the presence of mucus or phlegm. or have had a recent infection. The first step in determining a diagnosis will be to assess your health history by asking you detailed questions about your symptoms, when they started, and how they are different from your usual asthma symptoms.

This is typically followed by a physical exam during which your doctor will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope. Your vital signs, specifically your oxygen saturation levels and your temperature are also important in helping your doctor to understand your condition. If necessary your doctor may then order some of the following tests to aid in diagnosis:

  • Chest X-rays
  • Pulmonary function tests including spirometry
  • Sputum cultures to confirm or rule out certain infections

Treatment

Many the same medications used to manage asthma are beneficial for the treatment of bronchitis as well so it is important that you continue to use these. Additionally your doctor may order other medications or treatment regimens such as:

Bronchodilators

Bronchodilators are frequently prescribed for asthma and other breathing disorders such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) due to their ability to relax (dilate) the smooth muscle of the airways (bronchioles) and allow for better airflow through the lungs.

If you are already using a bronchodilator for asthma and you develop asthmatic bronchitis you should continue the medication as usual unless your doctor tells you differently. It is possible that your doctor may find it necessary to adjust the dose for a period of time or may even prescribe an additional bronchodilator if your condition warrants it.

Examples of common bronchodilators include salbutamol, salmeterol, formoterol, ipratropium, and theophilline.

Steroids

Both oral and inhaled corticosteroids are sometimes used in the treatment of asthma as they can reduce the inflammation in the airways. They are taken at regular intervals unlike bronchodilators which are generally used for immediate relief of acute symptoms. If you are already using a corticosteroid for your asthma you should keep taking it as usual.

Corticosteroids may be beneficial in some cases of asthmatic bronchitis particularly those cases that are not caused by an active infection. If you have an active infection using a steroid-based medication may be a two-edged sword since a common side effect of these medications is suppression of the immune system.

Common examples of corticosteroids include beclomethasone, budesonide, and fluticasone.

Managing Mucus Secretions

Excess mucus can be a bothersome symptom of asthmatic bronchitis and can sometimes aggravate breathing difficulties. It is important to keep mucous secretions thin by staying hydrated. Drinking a lot of fluid and using a cool mist humidifier can thin secretions and make them easier to clear.

Guaifenesin is a medication used to loosen mucus secretions in chronic bronchitis and it may be beneficial for asthmatic bronchitis. It is available over the counter (OTC), but consult your doctor before using it, especially if you are on other medications that may interact with it. Guaifenesin is an ingredient in many OTC cough and cold medications, so it is important to read the full ingredient list before purchasing.

While some decongestants may provide some immediate relief of symptoms the overall benefit of these medications is poorly understood. Therefore, a combination product may not be recommended by your health care provider. 

Antibiotics

Antibiotics will not be used for the treatment of asthmatic bronchitis unless an active bacterial infection is identified. This is not only because they are ineffective for treatment of bronchitis caused by viruses or other causes, but also to prevent the creation of super-bacteria and to avoid unnecessary side effects such as upset stomach and diarrhea.

Oxygen

The temporary administration of oxygen or even hospitalization may be required in very severe cases of asthmatic bronchitis but this is not common.

Prognosis

The typical course of illness for a case of bronchitis is about 14 days. However, for someone with an underlying condition such as asthma it can be longer although you should fully recover.

Chronic bronchitis is not typically caused by a cold virus but is related to chemical exposure, smoking, etc. By nature, this type of bronchitis keeps returning and may be more difficult to manage. Working closely with your doctor, avoiding any known triggers, and taking all of your medications as prescribed can help you to achieve the best possible outcome for good health.

Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Integra Urgent Care. Is it asthma, bronchitis, or both?

  2. NHS. Bronchitis. Updated August 2019.

  3. Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America. Asthma diagnosis. Updated September 2015

  4. MedlinePlus. Routine sputum culture. Updated September 29, 2019.

  5. American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. Corticosteroids defined.

  6. Albrecht, H.H., Dicpinigaitis, P.V. & Guenin, E.P. Role of guaifenesin in the management of chronic bronchitis and upper respiratory tract infectionsMultidiscip Respir Med 12, 31 (2017).

  7. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Bronchitis.

  8. John Hopkins. Bronchitis.