Can Asthma Medications Treat Acute Bronchitis?

Did you know that some asthma medications can do double-duty to treat acute bronchitis symptoms? Just keep in mind that the effectiveness of this option depends on your specific situation.

Asthma and Acute Bronchitis

Asthma is a chronic respiratory disease that's brought on by outside triggers such as allergens, illness, or stress. When you're sensitive to these factors, exposure can cause your sensitive airways to narrow and prevent the proper flow of air to your lungs.

On the other hand, acute bronchitis is a viral illness that causes your bronchial tree to become temporarily irritated. While asthma can be controlled but never "cured" completely, bronchitis is a short-term illness that will eventually go away with the proper treatment.

Despite these differences, both asthma and bronchitis can cause swelling of the airways, increased mucus, chest tightness, and wheezing.

A One-Size Fits All Treatment Approach?

Since symptoms of these separate conditions look so similar, some people believe that using asthma medications (such as a bronchodilator) will reduce airway obstruction and increase airflow. However, 2006 guidelines released by the American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) on treating bronchitis stress that using bronchodilator therapy to treat acute bronchitis may not be necessary.

When It's Worth It

ACCP points out that there are some exceptions to this rule, though. For instance, people with acute bronchitis whose cough lingers longer than several weeks may find that using asthma medications can help them feel better. In addition, those prone to wheezing may find that the inhaler brings some relief from coughing. The same is true of those who had some airway obstruction already in place before they ever became sick.

What You Can Do

If you have bronchitis and fall into any of these categories, it's worth asking your doctor if asthma medications will work for you. If she believes this form of treatment will be effective for your needs, she'll probably give you the go-ahead.

Also, keep in mind that some scientists believe there could be a connection between certain forms of bronchitis and adult-onset asthma. Therefore, if you develop asthma-symptoms after your bronchitis has resolved, it's important to have them checked.


American Academy of Family Physicians (AFP)

National Guideline Clearinghouse