The main difference between a cold and bronchitis relates to the severity of each. You probably won't get bronchitis unless you had a cold or some sort of upper respiratory infection first because bronchitis is normally caused by the common cold, and it develops when the airways leading to the lungs become inflamed and irritated. If you are suffering from a runny nose, sinus pain, and a mild cough or sore throat, you probably just have the common cold. In the event that your cold gets worse and you develop a persistent cough that is unproductive and lasts for a few weeks up to a month, you might have bronchitis. Another one of the main differences between a cold and bronchitis is your body temperature, because you may not run a fever with a cold, but you likely will run a fever with bronchitis.
If you have a cold that has lingered for longer than normal, you may be at risk for developing bronchitis. In addition to a persistent cough and fever, other symptoms of bronchitis typically include a painful burning sensation in the chest along with hoarseness or wheezing. It is very important that you see a doctor if you are unsure of the difference between a cold and bronchitis because bronchitis often requires medical treatment. Bronchitis is typically caused by either bacteria or a virus, and if bacteria is the cause of your bronchitis, your doctor can prescribe antibiotics to get rid of the infection.
Another reason why it is important to understand the difference between a cold and bronchitis is because bronchitis occasionally turns into pneumonia, which can be life-threatening. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your symptoms to determine whether you have the common cold, bronchitis, or pneumonia. The symptoms of bronchitis are often very similar to the symptoms of pneumonia, and for this reason many people mistake these illnesses for each other. With pneumonia, your fever will typically go much higher than it would if bronchitis were the problem. If you have pneumonia, you might also be experiencing shaking, chills, and shortness of breath.
Bronchitis is not considered a life-threatening illness, but if your cold has lasted for longer than a week and you have a very persistent cough that doesn't seem to be improving, you should definitely go see your doctor. In addition to antibiotics, your doctor may be able to prescribe a cough suppressant for you to take at night so your cough won't disrupt your sleep. Antibiotics may not be necessary if your bronchitis is viral, and it should go away on its own once your body rids itself of the virus that caused it.