Difference Between Bronchitis and Sinus Infection

Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes which are the air passageways between the nose and the lungs. The cause of bronchitis can be microorganisms or other particles irritating the bronchial tube lining. Sinus infection is the name given to any infection of the paranasal sinuses. Paranasal sinuses are many small hollow spaces in the bones of the face.

Bronchitis vs Sinus Infection

The difference between bronchitis and a sinus infection is that bronchitis is a lower respiratory tract condition. Depending on the period it has two types, acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis lasts around a few days or weeks, followed by a viral infection. Chronic bronchitis lasts from months to more than 2 years, and a constant mucus-producing cough is seen.

On the other hand, a sinus infection is an upper respiratory condition where the opening of the sinuses is narrowed by inflammation. There are 4 pairs of paranasal sinuses and the blockage and build-up of pressure in the sinuses are the reason for symptoms of nasal congestion, discharge, and pain in the sinus areas.

Comparison Table

Parameters of ComparisonBronchitisSinus Infection
The Area Affected    Primary and secondary bronchi are located in the lungs.Paranasal sinuses are present in the forehead, cheek, and around the nasal region.
Causes  Smoking and irritant exposure to the lungs.Viral, bacterial, and sometimes also fungal infections.
ClassificationAcute and chronic bronchitis.Acute, subacute, and chronic sinusitis.
ComplicationsCOPD, pneumonia, and respiratory failure in the chronic case.Brain Abscess, meningitis, wheezing.
TreatmentAntibiotics with cough suppressant medicines, mucolytics, bronchodilators, and painkillers if necessary.Antibiotics, humidifiers, oral fluid intake increase, nasal sprays, and saline irrigation to nostrils.

What is Bronchitis?

In a normal person, the bronchial tubes are patent and normal in size. In bronchitis, these passageways become narrowed. The swelling occurs in the bronchial tubes as the immune system generates mucus. This causes the symptoms of wheezing, cough, chest discomfort, and fever. There are two types depending on the time of infection passed, acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis usually lasts a few days or weeks. It is followed up by a cold or viral infection and is contagious as opposed to chronic bronchitis. It is caused by flu-causing viruses or bacterial infections. Irritants such as tobacco smoke, air pollution, or any sort of fumes can also be one of its causes leading to chest discomfort, fever, shortness of breath, wheezing for asthmatic patients, and productive cough. A doctor might perform a chest x-ray to diagnose acute bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis in contrast is characterized by a persistent productive cough that can last longer than 3 months to more than 2 years. Smoking along with other irritants such as fumes, dust, and air pollutants together with underlying diseases (e.g., asthma, cystic fibrosis, GERD) contribute to its cause. The general symptoms are difficulty in breathing, tight chest, and shortness of breath. A doctor might perform a chest x-ray, sputum test, pulmonary function test, and CT scan for diagnosis.

What is Sinus Infection?

Paranasal sinuses or sinuses are hollow air-filled sacs lined by a mucus membrane. They exist in 4 pairs: frontal, maxillary, ethmoidal, and sphenoidal. They are mainly related to the nasal cavity and have various functions, including controlling the head’s weight, regulating the temperature of inhaled air, and protecting vital structures of the face in case of trauma. These sinuses have small openings called Ostia which open into the nasal cavity.

A sinus infection is an acute inflammation of the mucus membrane lining causing narrowing or blockage of the Ostia. Maxillary and ethmoid sinuses are the ones more frequently infected. The major causes can be bacterial, viral, or fungal infections while other factors such as allergies, cold weather, occasional smoking, and nasal deformities might also contribute as a cause for infection.

The general symptoms will be pain or pressure over sinus areas, fever, persistent nasal discharge and nasal congestion at different times, headache, and sore throat. A doctor might perform tests such as an x-ray, sinus CT, nasal endoscopy, or rhinoscopy and also prescribe antibiotics as management treatment.

Main Differences Between Bronchitis and Sinus Infection

  1. Bronchitis affects the lower respiratory region compared to sinus infections which affect the upper respiratory tract including the nose, throat, and pharynx region.
  2. Bronchitis is less prevalent than sinus infections mainly due to its causing factor. Bronchitis is most commonly caused by smoking while sinus infections are caused by viral infections in most people.
  3. Complications in bronchitis can lead to COPD, pneumonia, and even excessive damage to lung tissue in severe chronic cases while in sinus infections meningitis and vision might be most affected.
  4. To prevent bronchitis, the patient is advised to quit smoking while to prevent sinus infections, it is advised to avoid pollutants and irritants by wearing face masks.
  5. In the case of bronchitis, specifically chronic bronchitis, surgery may be considered to remove lung tissue so that the overall lung volume reduces. As for sinus infections, endoscopic sinus surgery may be done to promote drainage and remove the diseased tissue.
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