How Do You Know if You Have Bronchitis or COVID-19 (Coronavirus)?

Medically Reviewed on 4/13/2022

What are bronchitis and Covid-19 (Coronavirus)?

Acute bronchitis and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses. They can have some of the same symptoms.  Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose whether you have COVID-19 or bronchitis.
Acute bronchitis and COVID-19 are both respiratory illnesses. They can have some of the same symptoms. Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose whether you have COVID-19 or bronchitis.

Acute bronchitis and COVID-19 (Coronavirus) are both respiratory illnesses. They can have some of the same symptoms. 

It's important to know the difference between these two illnesses. 

Acute bronchitis is sometimes referred to as a chest cold. It can develop after an upper respiratory infection (URI), which is usually called the common cold.

Bronchitis happens when the bronchial tubes that carry oxygen to your lungs become inflamed and irritated. These irritated airways then produce excess mucus and cause you to cough. Acute bronchitis typically will get better on its own. It can develop into pneumonia when not properly cared for.

COVID-19 (Coronavirus) is a new type of virus that has caused a global pandemic. 

There are many different types of coronaviruses. Some cause mild illnesses such as colds. Some cause more severe diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).  

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness that is spread from person to person. Symptoms usually appear within two weeks of exposure. You can spread COVID-19 to others even if you don't have any symptoms yourself. 

Symptoms of bronchitis and Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Acute bronchitis

If you have bronchitis, you may have any of the following symptoms:


Anyone can get COVID-19. If you are a healthy child or an adult under the age of 60 years, you may not have any symptoms. You may also have symptoms that range from mild to severe. Doctors’ understanding of COVID-19 is still developing.  

Symptoms of COVID-19 generally appear two days to two weeks after exposure. They can include: 

Causes of bronchitis and Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Acute bronchitis usually starts with a common cold

It is caused by the same types of viruses that cause URIs or the flu, including rhinovirus and influenza A and B. Acute bronchitis can be caused by bacteria, but that is much rarer. Bacterial infection occurs in less than 10% of cases of acute bronchitis. 

A coronavirus is a type of virus. COVID-19 is caused by a new type of this coronavirus, called SARS-CoV-2 . 


COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) is the same as adult-onset asthma. See Answer

Diagnosis for bronchitis and Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Only a licensed healthcare professional can diagnose whether you have COVID-19 or bronchitis.

To diagnose acute bronchitis, your doctor will listen to your symptoms and conduct a physical exam. 

There are no specific tests for bronchitis, but your doctor may do blood tests to eliminate other possible causes of your symptoms. Your doctor may also order a chest x-ray if you have a fever. This is to rule out pneumonia.

COVID-19 is diagnosed with a viral test. 

The COVID-19 test is completed with a swab that is placed deep inside your nose or throat. The swab is then tested to see if the virus that causes COVID-19 is present.  

A viral test can't tell you if you were previously infected. Even if you test negative, you can still get infected after the test. 

If you start to feel sick after you are tested, you may need to be tested again. 

Treatments for bronchitis and Covid-19 (Coronavirus)

Since acute bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, antibiotics will not help. Acute bronchitis will most likely get better on its own, so treatment is generally focused on relieving your symptoms. 

You can try the following measures to feel better:

  • Get lots of rest
  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially hot liquids such as tea
  • Take honey to help with cough, but do not give honey to an infant
  • Use sinus rinses or saline nasal sprays
  • Use lozenges to help with a sore throat, but do not give them to children under the age four
  • Use a humidifier or inhale steam from a hot shower
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medicine such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen

You should only take treatments for COVID-19 if your healthcare provider recommends it. If you take treatments not recommended by your doctor, you could become seriously ill or even die. 

Treatments are still evolving and should be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) — at least for emergency use, if not yet fully approved. The drug Veklury (remdesivir) was the first FDA-approved treatment for COVID-19. Another treatment that has received an emergency use authorization is the investigational monoclonal antibody therapy bamlanivimab. Monoclonal antibodies are proteins made in labs, and they act like the immune system as it fights off problematic antigens, such as viruses. Shortly after, the FDAissued an emergency use authorization for a combination of the drug baricitinib, in combination with remdesivir.

Because the virus is new, treatments and vaccines are developing swiftly. It’s important to check with your doctor about the most up-to-date information about approved and effective treatments, as well as possible vaccines.

If you are in a high-risk group, this means that you are more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19. If you test positive, your doctor may recommend that you receive antibodies. These antibodies can help your immune system fight the virus.

Your healthcare provider may also recommend the following measures:

  • Fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen
  • Stay hydrated by drinking lots of water
  • Get plenty of rest


COPD Foods to Boost Your Health - COPD Diet Tips See Slideshow

What to do when a cold becomes bronchitis?

If your cold progresses to become bronchitis, you must:

  • Drink plenty of fluids, especially water. If due to certain medical conditions such as kidney diseases your doctor has restricted your fluid intake, you may ask them of the number of fluids you can safely have.
  • Take adequate rest.
  • Take over-the-counter pain relievers, such as acetaminophen, as per the label instructions.
  • Take steam inhalation.
  • Take a warm shower.
  • Take non medicated lozenges to soothe the throat.
  • Avoid smoking.
  • Wear a mask to protect yourself from pollution or cold air.
  • Take a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and lean meat.
  • Perform breathing exercises.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Have ginger tea and other herbal teas.
  • Gargle with salt and water.
  • Drink some honey in water.
  • Avoid being around second-hand smoke.
  • Use a humidifier.

If your symptoms do not get better or get worse, consult your doctor.

Seek immediate medical care if you experience any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F or higher
  • Cough with bloody mucus
  • Shortness of breath or trouble breathing
  • Symptoms that last more than three weeks
  • Repeated episodes of bronchitis

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis or “chest cold” refers to the inflammation of the airways (bronchial tubes) in the lungs. Air passes through the lungs within a network of tubules called bronchial tubes. Bronchitis is often associated with persistent, nagging coughs with mucus. The condition often starts as an infection of the nose, eyes, ears, or sinuses that later moves to the bronchi. 

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic:

  • Acute bronchitis: It is a short-term condition. It is usually caused by a viral infection. Smoking may initiate or worsen the symptoms. A bacterial infection may occasionally cause acute bronchitis. Acute bronchitis usually goes away in a week or two. The symptoms may at times last for three weeks.
  • Chronic bronchitis: It is less common compared with acute bronchitis. It is defined as cough productive of sputum, lasting for three months of the year for at least two consecutive years. It may block the airflow in the lungs and is classified as a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. Chronic bronchitis may begin as cough and inflammation caused by a respiratory infection or illness, exposure to tobacco smoke, or other irritants in the air. 

Subscribe to MedicineNet's Allergy and Asthma Newsletter

By clicking "Submit," I agree to the MedicineNet Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy. I also agree to receive emails from MedicineNet and I understand that I may opt out of MedicineNet subscriptions at any time.

How does a cold turn into bronchitis?

Common cold and bronchitis can be caused by the same viruses. The common cold is associated with symptoms in the nose, throat, and sinuses such as sneezing, stuffy or running nose, headache, and throat pain or irritation. When this infection travels down and affects the bronchial tubes, bronchitis occurs. Bronchitis may also be caused by a bacterial infection or irritation caused by cigarette smoke or air pollutants. 

The occurrence of bronchitis is often preceded by symptoms of the common cold. The condition further progresses to cause the following:

  • Persistent cough with mucus production
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever which is usually low grade
  • Wheezing (a high-pitched, coarse whistling sound when a person breathes)
  • Feeling sick or having a lack of energy
  • Chest discomfort or pain

Owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, you must consult your healthcare provider right away if you experience any symptoms such as cough, altered taste or smell, shortness of breath, or fever.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically Reviewed on 4/13/2022
American Family Physician: "Acute Bronchitis."

Bass Urgent Care: "COVID-19 vs. The Common Chest Cold: Spotting The Difference."

Canadian Family Physician: "Acute bronchitis."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Chest Cold (Acute Bronchitis)."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "Coronavirus Disease 2019."

Cleveland Clinic: "Bronchitis."

NIH: "Bronchitis."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "What is Coronavirus?"

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Drug Combination for Treatment of COVID-19.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “Coronavirus (COVID-19) Update: FDA Authorizes Monoclonal Antibody for Treatment of COVID-19.”

U.S. Food and Drug Administration: “FDA Approves First Treatment for COVID-19.”