Many people often confuse pneumonia with bronchitis, as the symptoms of these two illnesses can be quite similar. In some cases, these two conditions are also mistaken for asthma, bronchiolitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD) or even a severe bout of the common cold.
Differentiating Bronchitis From Pneumonia
Learning the key differences between bronchitis and pneumonia is crucial to helping you come up with an effective treatment plan.
Bronchitis occurs when the lining of the passages that carry air to and from your lungs (known as your bronchial tubes) becomes infected. It usually manifests after a viral illness, such as the common cold or flu or, in some cases, the infection may develop on its own. Bronchitis is usually a viral infection, meaning antibiotics may not be helpful in treating it. There are two types of bronchitis:
- Acute bronchitis may last for only a week or so, although some of the symptoms (such as coughing) may still be felt several weeks after the condition has cleared up.1
- Chronic bronchitis may last for a few months, and the symptoms may come with sputum (a mix of mucus and saliva) on a daily basis.2 This can become quite serious, as it can increase your risk of lung cancer,3 or the infection may spread to your lungs.4
On the other hand, pneumonia occurs when the alveoli, or the air sacs in the lungs that transfer oxygen to the bloodstream, are inflamed. Generally, people with bronchitis feel much worse than those with pneumonia.5
Pneumonia is also more dangerous than bronchitis, as it affects your oxygen supply, meaning all the organs and tissues in your body can be severely compromised. While bronchitis is usually viral in nature, pneumonia may be viral, fungal or bacterial in nature, or may occur because of other harmful organisms.
There are similarities between the symptoms of these two illnesses. Mainly, they come with a persistent wet or dry cough, chest pain, chills and shortness of breath. However, pneumonia usually comes with fever, headache and fatigue as well.
What Is Bronchopneumonia?
In some instances, bronchitis and pneumonia may occur at the same time. This condition is known as bronchopneumonia or lobular pneumonia. This means that both your bronchial tubes and alveoli sacs are infected. Bronchopneumonia may be caused by bacteria, such as Staphylococcus, Proteus and Streptococcus.6,7
Whether you have bronchitis, pneumonia or bronchopneumonia, learning the correct diagnosis is crucial in order for you to reach an effective treatment plan. For example, if you are mistakenly diagnosed with pneumonia when you actually have bronchitis, and your physician recommends taking antibiotics, this will not treat the disease. Antibiotics only work on bacterial infections, and not viruses, and may only lead to antibiotic resistance — spelling more danger for your health.