Difference between viral and bacterial forms of acute bronchitis

Often it is hard to tell the difference between the viral and bacterial forms of acute bronchitis. Both types usually develop during or after a cold or other upper respiratory infection.

  • Viral bronchitis usually causes a mild fever. Little to no mucus is coughed up from the lungs in the beginning, and you most likely do not feel very sick. If you have viral bronchitis along with influenza (flu), you may feel quite ill.
  • Bacterial bronchitis may cause a higher fever and a cough that often produces thick, dark, discolored mucus from the lungs (not mucus drainage from the back of the throat). You may feel very sick.

In otherwise healthy people, both bacterial and viral bronchitis usually get better with home treatment. However, if you have another respiratory disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or cystic fibrosis, acute bronchitis may be a serious problem and may be treated differently.

Last Updated: July 23, 2008

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