COVID-19 and Bronchitis

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on January 03, 2023

The symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, include fever, fatigue, a cough, shortness of breath, body aches, and a sore throat. These can also happen with other conditions, including bronchitis. It’s hard to tell what you have just by how you feel.

Bronchitis is the general term for inflammation of the cells lining the tubes that carry air to and from your lungs. The main symptom is a deep cough that comes on fast. It can start as a dry, hacking cough, but you’ll usually start noticing mucus. Other symptoms might include:

  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever and chills
  • Chest discomfort
  • Cold symptoms, such as a mild headache or body aches

You might have a cough for a few weeks or months after your other symptoms clear up.

To be on the safe side, call your doctor to discuss your symptoms. Other signs of COVID-19 include:

  • Headache
  • Loss of taste or smell
  • Congestion or a runny nose
  • Stomach problems like pain, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Pinkeye
  • Skin rash

Acute Bronchitis

Acute bronchitis is something that comes up suddenly and doesn’t last that long. Some people call it a chest cold. It’s usually caused by the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. But it can also be a symptom of COVID-19.

Coronaviruses and other viruses that affect your respiratory system can cause bronchitis. This can sometimes lead to pneumonia, an infection of the tiny air sacs in your lungs. Pneumonia usually causes a wet cough, fever, and trouble breathing. These symptoms can be severe and dangerous without treatment.

It can be easy to mistake symptoms of a cold, the flu, or bronchitis for COVID-19. This is especially tricky because the symptoms of COVID-19 can be mild. You won’t be able to tell if COVID-19 is causing your symptoms without a lab test for the virus. Your doctor can help you know if you need a test.

Chronic Bronchitis

In some cases, bronchitis can be chronic, meaning it lasts for more than a few months or keeps coming back. This can be caused by smoking, air pollution, lung disease, or a weakened immune system.

Bronchitis doesn’t cause COVID-19 or make you more likely to get it. But if you have chronic bronchitis or other health problems, you’re more likely to get very sick if you do catch COVID-19. (Many conditions put people at higher risk with COVID-19.)

Almost half of the people who have COVID-19 have mild symptoms but can still spread the virus. So if you’ve had chronic bronchitis or other lung problems like asthma or lung disease, take extra care to not get sick. Vaccines are now available and you are encouraged to get one when it is available to you. You should also, like everyone else, make sure to:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19
  • Wear a face mask when you go out.
  • Wash your hands often and/or use hand sanitizer.
  • Try not to touch your face.
  • Stay away from people who are sick, even with mild colds.
  • Avoid contact with anyone who has traveled in the past 2 weeks.
  • Follow local instructions about going out in public, including social distancing.
  • Wash your hands after touching animals.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces often.

If you think you might have come into contact with the virus, check your temperature every day and keep an eye out for symptoms. About 97% of people who get sick show symptoms within 2 weeks of being exposed. If you feel ill, call your doctor to talk about the next steps. If you start to have chest pain, tightness, or trouble breathing, get medical care as soon as possible.

When Should You Get a COVID-19 Test?

If you think you might have come into contact with the virus, check your temperature every day and keep an eye out for symptoms. About 97% of people who get sick show symptoms within 2 weeks of being exposed.

Get a COVID-19 test if you notice symptoms like:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Other reasons to get a COVID-19 test include:

  • Known or suspected exposure to someone with COVID-19
  • Required screenings in places such as work, school, college, or large gatherings
  • Before travel or if you need to enter a country that requires a COVID-19 test result
  • Your doctor suspects COVID-19

If you notice symptoms, call your doctor to talk about next steps. If you start to have chest pain, tightness, or trouble breathing, get medical attention as soon as possible.

Benefits of COVID-19 Vaccination

The best way to avoid or reduce your chances of getting a COVID-19 infection is to get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible for one near you.

There are several benefits to getting the vaccine, such as:

  • You'll have strong protection against getting seriously ill, hospitalization, or in severe cases, death.
  • You’re less likely to pass the virus to others.

You may travel internationally as long as ou follow COVID-19 test and vaccination protocols as set by each country. If you happen to come in close contact with someone with COVID-19 and you’re up to date on your vaccines, get tested 5 days after you last made contact. Wear a well-fitted mask around others for up to 10 days.

Show Sources


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Cedars Sinai: “Bronchitis.”

CHEST Foundation: “Acute Bronchitis.”

Harvard Medical School: “Coronavirus Resource Center,” “Cracking the cough code.”

Loma Linda University Health: “Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19).”

Mayo Clinic: “Bronchitis.”

Nature News: “Covert coronavirus infections could be seeding new outbreaks.”

New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch: “COVID-19 Incubation Period: An Update.”

World Health Organization: “Q&A on coronaviruses (COVID-19).”

CDC: “About Cloth Face Coverings,” “Symptoms of Coronavirus,” “Symptoms of COVID-19,” “COVID-19 Testing: What You Need to Know,” “Benefits of Getting a COVID-19 Vaccine."

UpToDate: “Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19): Clinical features.”

World Health Organization: “Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vaccines.”

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