COVID-19 and Bronchitis
Written by Ada’s Medical Knowledge Team
- COVID-19 and bronchitis can cause similar symptoms.
- Bronchitis can be caused by an infection with the coronavirus.
- Both acute bronchitis and COVID-19 usually go away on their own. Treatment options exist for those who are at risk of severe symptoms.
Bronchitis and COVID-19 are both respiratory conditions which can cause similar symptoms. This article will guide you through the possible connection between the two, their differences and similarities in symptoms, and the possible treatment methods.
Can the coronavirus cause bronchitis?
Bronchitis is an infection of the main airways of the lungs, called the bronchi. These bronchi branch off on both sides of your windpipe, leading to smaller airways inside your lungs. Their function is to bring air-rich oxygen to the lungs so that the oxygen can eventually be absorbed by the blood and brought to the cells and tissues that need it. 1
In most cases, bronchitis is caused by a viral infection, such as those that cause cold, influenza ,or RSV. You can also get bronchitis from COVID-19 viruses. Occasionally, bronchitis can also be caused by bacteria.
Bronchitis can be both acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis has a sudden onset, whereas chronic bronchitis is long-lasting. Viruses or bacteria cause acute bronchitis, while chronic bronchitis is not necessarily a symptom of COPD. Repeated bouts of bronchitis (that is when bronchitis becomes chronic) is a COPD itself. You have an increased chance of chronic bronchitis if you: 2
- Are 65+
- Have been exposed to fumes or certain kinds of dust
- Have a family history of COPD or respiratory diseases
- Have gastroesophageal reflux disease.
As chronic bronchitis targets the lungs, this condition can put you at risk of severe symptoms for COVID-19.
Bronchitis vs. COVID-19 symptoms
When you have bronchitis, the bronchi become irritated and inflamed, which causes your symptoms. In a normal situation, the inside layer of the bronchi produces mucus to help transport particles which may irritate the airways to your throat. Some examples of such particles are dust and bacteria. These particles can get trapped in the mucus and then be secreted. However, If the bronchi are inflamed, overproduction of mucus will occur. As this mucus obstructs your airways, your body will develop a cough to get rid of the mucus.
Knowing whether you have COVID-19 or bronchitis caused by another virus may be difficult, as the symptoms can be similar. Both bronchitis and COVID-19 can cause: 3
However, there are a few differences between COVID-19 and bronchitis. Bronchitis's headaches and body aches are usually milder than when experienced with COVID-19. On top of that, there are a few more reported symptoms which may indicate an infection with the coronavirus: 4 5
How can bronchitis and COVID-19 be diagnosed?
Both acute bronchitis and COVID-19 are infectious, so it’s best to stay away from others while you’re feeling sick, especially those who are at risk of severe illness due to COVID-19. In the early stages of acute bronchitis, it may be difficult to distinguish it from the common cold. A physician will ask you questions and will perform a physical examination to come to a diagnosis. In some cases, there may be some extra tests necessary, such as: 2 6
- A pulmonary function test
- A blood test to look for signs of infection
- A chest X-ray to check whether your lungs and bronchi look normal
- Sputum tests
To determine whether your symptoms are due to an infection with the coronavirus or another virus, your doctor may also recommend getting tested for COVID-19.
When should you seek medical care for your bronchitis or COVID-19?
Both COVID-19 and bronchitis go away on their own in most cases. It's, however, recommended to monitor your symptoms and get in touch with your doctor if your condition is worsening. You should see your doctor if: 2
- Your cough is not going away after 2 to 3 weeks.
- You have trouble breathing.
- You cough up mucus with blood.
- You have an underlying heart or lung condition.
- You have a high fever, you’re breathing fast, and your heart rate is elevated. This may indicate that you have pneumonia, which can be a complication of your bronchitis. In this case, the infection spreads further into the lungs and affects the small air sacs inside the lungs, called the alveoli.
If you’ve been diagnosed with COVID-19, then it’s essential to contact your doctor if: 7
- You’re gradually feeling worse
- You have difficulty breathing when standing upright
- You feel very weak, and basic tasks feel too difficult
- You’re shaking or shivering
- You still feel unwell after a month
For more information about COVID-19 and lung damage read this article.
How long does COVID-19 bronchitis last?
Both COVID-19 and bronchitis symptoms should clear up by themselves over a few weeks. However, some people suffer from symptoms for a longer time. If your bronchitis symptoms last more than 3 months, it’s known as chronic bronchitis. COVID-19 long-lasting symptoms are also known as symptoms of long-COVID.
How to treat COVID-19 associated bronchitis
If you have bronchitis due to COVID-19, taking your rest to recover is crucial. There are some things that you can do to ease your symptoms at home:
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take over-the-counter medication such as paracetamol, ibuprofen, or naproxen
- Your doctor may also prescribe you with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to treat your bronchitis
If you are at risk of developing severe symptoms due to an infection with the coronavirus, additional treatment options may be available for you, depending on your situation.
As we continue to learn more about the coronavirus, the impact that it can have on the respiratory system is becoming more and more apparent, including the potential to contribute to the development of bronchitis. While bronchitis is a common respiratory illness, it can have serious complications, especially in the context of COVID-19. It’s vital to monitor your symptoms, both with bronchitis and COVID-19.
Q: If I have bronchitis, will I test positive for COVID-19?
A: You will only test positive for COVID-19 if your bronchitis is caused by the coronavirus. If it’s caused by another virus or a bacteria, your COVID-19 test results will not return positive.
Q: Does COVID-19 feel like bronchitis?
A: There are several symptoms between both conditions which are very similar, such as a cough, fever, headaches, fatigue and body aches. However, a few symptoms are more common for the coronavirus disease, such as a loss of taste and smell, a congested nose, or diarrhea.
Q: Can you get chronic bronchitis after COVID-19?
A: Some people may experience a long-lasting cough after being infected with the coronavirus, also known as long-COVID.
Q: What is the difference between bronchitis and COVID-19?
A: Bronchitis is an inflammation of your bronchi, while COVID-19 refers to the disease which stems from an infection with the coronavirus.