Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia

Do you know the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia? These lung conditions share many of the same symptoms, such as bothersome coughs, but the difference in severity is significant to note. Some people with acute bronchitis are at risk for getting pneumonia. Although acute bronchitis goes away within a few weeks, pneumonia can become a serious condition, especially in older adults.

What is bronchitis?

Bronchitis is the swelling of the airways (bronchi) or breathing tubes in the lungs. The immune system produces mucus to trap the infection, and this development of mucus in the lungs causes a cough. While there are many different types of bronchitis, the following information is specific to the most common types, acute and chronic bronchitis. Acute bronchitis is caused by a viral infection, such as the cold or flu virus. It can also be caused by bacterial infections or inhaled physical or chemical agents. People with chronic sinusitis, allergies, or enlarged tonsils are at a higher risk for this condition. It can be a serious illness for people with lung or heart disease. Common symptoms include:

  • Back and muscle pain
  • Cough – first dry and then with mucus
  • Chest soreness
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Runny nose
  • Sore throat
  • Watery eyes
  • Slight fever

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs – caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi – in which the air sacs fill with pus and other liquid. Pneumonia can be very serious and even deadly. There are more than 30 potential causes of pneumonia. The main types of pneumonia are bacterial, viral, and mycoplasma. Anyone can get pneumonia, but the groups most at risk include adults aged 65 years and older, children younger than the age of two, people with certain medical conditions, and smokers. Common symptoms include:

  • Coughing that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating
  • Trouble breathing
  • Confused mental state or delirium
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sharp chest pains
  • Shaking chills

What’s the difference?

The key difference between bronchitis and pneumonia is that bronchitis causes inflammation of the air passages while pneumonia causes fluid in the lungs due to an infection. In most cases, antibiotics are not needed to treat acute bronchitis, but a complication of bronchitis is pneumonia. If your condition has progressed to pneumonia, then antibiotics may be necessary. Your physician can diagnose and provide treatment options for your condition.

Pneumonia can be prevented and treated in most cases, but those with compromised immune systems, including infants and the elderly, have a more difficult time getting back to health. Lower your risk for pneumonia by getting vaccinated and following healthy practices; schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician today.



Acute Bronchitis

Acute Bronchitis in Children


Pneumonia in Children


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