Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia | Whittier, CA | PIH Health

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Published on February 10, 2022

Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia

Photo of a woman reading her temperature in bed while holding a wrinkled tissue paperBronchitis and pneumonia are types of lung infections that can have similar causes and symptoms, yet they are very different diseases. There are several types of bronchitis, with the most common being acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis. The information in this article refers to acute bronchitis.

Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes or airways, called bronchi, that carry air into and out of the lungs. Pneumonia inflames the tiny sacs (alveoli) in part of your lungs. The inflammation and swelling associated with pneumonia causes mucus in the alveoli that keep oxygen and carbon dioxide from moving easily from the lungs to the bloodstream.

PIH Health physician, Amber Lin MD, says, “Symptoms of acute bronchitis can last for a week or more, and although you will likely recover on your own, your healthcare provider can prescribe medication to help relieve your symptoms, and also rule out more serious lung conditions.” Pneumonia can lead to serious illness, and can be life threatening in some cases. Children under the age of 2, and adults over 65 are at higher risk from complications due to a pneumonia infection.

Key points about acute bronchitis

  • Bronchitis is inflammation of the breathing tubes. These airways are called bronchi. There are several different types of bronchitis. The two most common are acute and chronic.
  • Acute bronchitis is usually caused by the same viruses that cause colds and the flu. It may also be caused by a bacterial infection, or by physical or chemical agents that are breathed into the lungs.
  • The most common symptoms for acute bronchitis include cough, chest soreness, runny nose, feeling tired and achy, headache, chills, slight fever, and sore throat.
  • Healthcare providers can often diagnose acute bronchitis by taking a health history and doing a physical exam. Blood tests, breathing tests, and imaging tests may also be used.
  • In most cases, antibiotics are not needed to treat acute bronchitis. Treatment is aimed at managing the symptoms. If it is severe or progresses to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be needed. Your healthcare provider will determine the best treatment for your bronchitis.
  • Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs that is usually caused by bacteria, but can also be caused by viruses or fungi.
  • Anyone can get it. But those at highest risk include children younger than age 2, adults 65 and older, people who smoke, and people with certain health conditions.
  • The most common symptom is a cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus. Other symptoms include fever, shaking chills, shortness of breath, low energy, and extreme tiredness.
  • Pneumonia can often be diagnosed with a health history and physical exam. Tests used to look at the lungs, blood tests, and tests done on the sputum you cough up may also be used.
  • Most people with pneumonia respond well to treatment, but pneumonia can cause serious lung and infection problems. It can even be deadly.

Key points about pneumonia

If you have cold symptoms that do not improve or get worse after a week, see your healthcare provider to avoid complications that can lead to pneumonia. If you would like to make an appointment with Dr. Lin, call 562.698.2541 or to find a doctor near you, visit PIHHealth.org/Find-a-Doctor.

The information in Healthy Living Online is for educational purposes only.  It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.  The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation, or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.