Asthma vs Bronchitis
Physician's Weekly
November 19, 2021
Asthma vs Bronchitis

Q: I had recurrent bouts of bronchitis as a child now I’m being told at 43 that I’m an asthmatic. Is that possible? Can you share with me some information on asthma?

A: The “bronchitis” you experienced as a child may well have been asthma. Many cases of asthma, especially in children, are often misdiagnosed as bronchitis. These two conditions have similar symptoms however, their respective causes are different. In both conditions the airways are narrowed making it difficult for the sufferer to breathe. Ultimately, there is often a reduction of the blood’s oxygen levels. In both conditions the patient could experience persistent coughing, chest tightness, shortness of breath and a whistling sound (i.e. wheezing) on exhalation. However, persons experiencing bronchitis may have a chill, fever, general malaise, headache, and discoloured sputum. It should be noted that asthmatics are more prone than non-asthmatics to suffering from bronchitis.

Asthma Overview

In asthmatics there are a combination of factors which ultimately result in difficulty breathing. These include:

  •  Inflammation (swelling) of the lining of the airways
  • Spasm of the muscles in the airway’s wall resulting in its narrowing
  • A buildup of mucus in the airways

The most common triggers for asthma include, but not limited to:

  • Allergy triggers – e.g. house dust mites, pollens, cockroach waste, or particles of skin and dried saliva shed by pets, and moulds.
  • Smoke e.g. cigarette smoke, burning of debris
  • Viral respiratory tract infections.
  • Changes in the weather.
  •  Environmentally-related – e.g. wood dust, fumes/ gases, chemicals, cleaning agents.
  • Some medications
  • Exercise (in some)

Asthma medications are generally classified as:

  • Reliever inhalers are intended to act immediately by relaxing the constricting muscles of the airways. These are used during an acute attack. Examples include Ventolin, salbutamol, albuterol, terbutaline.
  • Preventers over time reduces the inflammation in the airways and reduces their sensitivity to triggers. They often must be taken daily over extended periods of time – even when the person feels well. Examples include Becotide, beclomethasone, prednisone, Pulmicort, Flixotide.

While asthma can’t be cured, however, its symptoms can be controlled. Hence, it’s important that you work closely with your doctor in order to successfully achieve this objective.

Seek immediate attention for your asthma if:

  • You are experiencing shortness of breath on speaking
  • Lips or under fingernails turning blue
  • Sudden and rapid worsening of symptoms
  • The reliever inhaler is not or hardly working
  • Your peak flow meter numbers are sub-optimal
  • The skin beneath or under your ribs pulls inward when you inhale

Take away tips:

  • All asthmatics should own a peak flow meter which can accurately tell (in a non-medical setting) how severe any given attack is
  • Know and avoid triggers wherever possible
  • Master the proper inhaler technique
  • Avoid smoking and all smoke
  • Stay fit
  • Ask your doctor if a spacer could improve the effectiveness of the inhaler – especially in persons with hand-eye-coordination challenges (e.g. children & elderly)
  • Always keep your reliever inhaler handy
  • Using a reliever inhaler before exercising helps those with exercise induced asthma
  • Get your COVID-19 vaccine. Asthma is a risk factor for severe COVID – including hospitalization and death.

Author: Dr. C. Malcolm Grant – Family Physician, c/o Family Care Clinic, Arnos Vale,,, 1(784)570-9300 (Office), 1(784)455-0376 (WhatsApp)

Disclaimer: The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and does not substitute for professional medical advice. Please consult a medical professional or healthcare provider if you are seeking medical advice, diagnoses, or treatment. Dr. C. Malcolm Grant, Family Care Clinic or The Searchlight Newspaper or their associates, respectively, are not liable for risks or issues associated with using or acting upon the information provided above.