Pneumonia and bronchitis are respiratory conditions that can initially appear to be quite similar, but there are a number of major differences between the two. Inflammation is present in both conditions and yet it is the lungs that are inflamed with pneumonia, as opposed to the bronchi as is the case with bronchitis.
The two conditions both impact on the respiratory tract in its lower part, but pneumonia is generally seen as a condition that is much more serious than bronchitis. The ability to breathe is affected by both conditions, yet breathing function can be reduced much more by pneumonia than bronchitis – and a fever in those suffering from pneumonia can also be much more serious than with the latter.
These respiratory conditions may also be contagious, with some different types of pneumonia and bronchitis being transmissible while others are not. There is a small chance that among some patients, generally the very young and old, due to their weaker immune systems, bronchitis may turn into pneumonia. The bacteria responsible for inflaming the bronchi may, if left untreated, also result in inflammation in the lungs as well. It is important to seek medical treatment for bronchitis, to cut down the chances of such an occurrence.
There are many symptoms that are common to both pneumonia and bronchitis, as well as many notable differences. Symptoms of bronchitis can include a dry cough that may progress to mucus, as well as symptoms familiar to many sufferers of the common cold such as headache, chest pain, runny nose and wheezing. Pneumonia symptoms include a fever that can run from mild to high, shortness of breath that becomes worse with movement or activity, headache, clammy skin and sweating, low energy, fatigue, coughing with mucus, shaking chills, chest pain, loss of appetite, weight loss, confusion and fatigue.
Symptoms of pneumonia can also vary depending on the reason for the condition, with those of bacterial pneumonia typically including a high fever, delirium and confusion, and rapid heart rate and breathing, while viral pneumonia results in symptoms similar to those caused by the flu, such as fever, muscle pain, weakness and headache.
Causes and comparisons
A viral infection is the common cause of bronchitis, which is the reason it offers responds poorly to treatment with antibiotics. Bacterial infections can sometimes result in an inflammation of the bronchial tubes and result in bronchitis. A viral or bacterial infection can be the cause of pneumonia, although there are rare instances where a fungus has been responsible.
The immune system can be weakened by smoking and by conditions such as COPD, and lungs can also be damaged by exposure to some chemicals, which in turn can make them more vulnerable to the bacteria that result in pneumonia.
Complications and risk factors
The risk factors for bronchitis and pneumonia are actually quite similar. Among the risk factors for developing bronchitis are having a weak or compromised immune system, gastric reflux which irritates the throat, and smoking.
Risk factors for pneumonia include being in age groups over fifty five or under the age of two, being hospitalized – particularly with breathing difficulties – and being a smoker, as well as having a chronic disease. Possible complications from bronchitis include chronic bronchitis or even chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, while complications from pneumonia can include the likes of lung abscess, breathing difficulties, organ failure caused by bacteria invading the bloodstream, and fluid accumulation within the lungs.
Diagnosis and treatment
The sputum of the patient will be analysed by a doctor in either disease, in order to work out whether the cause is viral or bacterial. A chest X-ray will also be performed, particularly if there is a suspicion of pneumonia. White blood cells may be analysed to determine if a more serious infection is being fought off by the body. A lung function test may also be run.
Antibiotics will be prescribed for bacterial bronchitis, but are not effective for viral bronchitis. The best way to recover from bronchitis is with pain relief medication, inhalers and lots of rest. Antiviral medication or antibiotics are also used to treat pneumonia, with fever-suppressing medications known as antipyretics also a possibility, as well as cough suppressants. Pneumonia should last no more than two weeks with plenty of hydration and