Could Your Cold Actually be Bronchitis?

Nick Rosen, MD
Medically reviewed by Nick Rosen, MDMarch 4th, 2021
cough in public with mask

The common cold is called that for a reason—it’s extraordinarily common. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says most adults catch two to three colds every year, with children having even more. This means that if you wake up groggy with a stuffy nose and nagging cough, chances are it’s a cold. Less common but equally as bothersome, bronchitis (or a “chest cold”) can also cause a stubborn cough and that dreaded sick feeling. Sometimes, bronchitis can develop from a common cold. Let’s take a closer look at these two conditions, how they differ, and what you should do if you suspect your routine cold may be something more.

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Common Cold Basics

Colds are usually caused by rhinoviruses that are spread by touch or through the air, although more than 200 viruses are known to cause colds. Tell-tale symptoms of the common cold include:

  • Stuffy or runny nose (mucus may be clear, white, yellow, or green)
  • Sneezing
  • Watery eyes
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Post-nasal drip, or mucus draining down the back of the throat
  • Fever (in rare cases)

Cold symptoms tend to peak in about two to three days but may last as long as two weeks, although you should start feeling better during that time. Most people are able to treat their colds at home by drinking plenty of fluids and getting extra rest. Over-the-counter decongestants, throat lozenges, and cough suppressants can also help ease symptoms and help you feel more like yourself. While most colds can be remedied at home, there are instances when professional medical care is recommended, such as when a cold develops into bronchitis. Be sure to speak with a medical professional if:

  • Your symptoms persist for 10 days without improvement
  • You are displaying signs of dehydration, which may include dizziness, excessive thirst, fatigue, dry mouth, headache, and little or no urine
  • You have a fever that lasts longer than four days
  • Your symptoms improve but then worsen
  • You have labored breathing

The Facts About Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis can develop from the same viruses responsible for the common cold. In fact, it often occurs after a bout with a cold or another upper respiratory infection. Bronchitis is characterized by inflamed bronchial tubes—the branch-like structures that carry air into the lungs. This inflammation causes the bronchial tubes to produce mucus, which is why you may constantly feel the need to cough if you have bronchitis. The signs of acute bronchitis differ slightly from those of a cold. A few of the most common symptoms include:

  • Frequent coughing, with or without clear, white, green, or yellow mucus
  • Chest soreness, especially when coughing
  • A feeling that your chest is full or clogged
  • Wheezing
  • Sore throat
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Mild body aches
  • Low-grade fever

Bronchitis symptoms can linger for several weeks, although many people are able to recover at home without professional medical care. However, bronchitis can sometimes be severe or cause potentially serious complications. It’s important to promptly seek medical care if:

  • Your symptoms last longer than three weeks
  • You have shortness of breath or labored breathing
  • Your cough produces bloody mucus
  • You have a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • You seem to get bronchitis frequently

What About Chronic Bronchitis?

If you’ve ever searched the internet for information about bronchitis, you’ve probably stumbled upon “chronic bronchitis.” This isn’t the same as acute bronchitis, which is sporadically caused by a virus and only lasts a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis falls under the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) umbrella and is present for more than three months a year for at least two years in a row. It is a long-term illness that requires ongoing care and management.

In-Home Medical Treatment For Whatever’s Ailing You

The common cold and bronchitis undoubtedly have one thing in common: they can both make you feel miserable. Thankfully, DispatchHealth can deliver the urgent medical care you need in the comfort and safety of your own home. Our fully equipped medical teams treat pediatric, adult, and geriatric patients with cold and bronchitis symptoms and assist individuals with chronic conditions like COPD.


DispatchHealth is ready to help—request care today by giving us a call, going on our website, or using our app. We’re available 365 days a year, offer affordable rates, and accept most health insurance plans.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.Sources referenced in this article:

The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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