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How to Know If You Have Pneumonia or Bronchitis

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How to Know If You Have Pneumonia or Bronchitis

Thursday, January 11, 2018 7:01 AM

 How to Know If You Have Pneumonia or Bronchitis

Pneumonia and bronchitis are both respiratory conditions that can affect your breathing, cause a painful cough, and be accompanied by cold or flu-like symptoms. What is the difference between pneumonia and bronchitis? One big difference is where it develops in your body. Pneumonia develops in your lungs, while bronchitis develops in the airways that lead to your lungs. Pneumonia can be viral and fungal, but it is most commonly bacterial in adults, which means it can be treated with antibiotics. On the other hand, bronchitis that is typically viral cannot be treated with antibiotics. Compared to acute bronchitis, pneumonia typically has more severe symptoms. However, it’s important to keep an eye on bronchitis which can turn into pneumonia.

Despite this information, some of the similar symptoms can still make it difficult to know whether you or someone you care for has bronchitis or pneumonia. A doctor can make an accurate diagnosis, but there are a few things that can help you further understand the symptoms of both.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes that carry air to your lungs. The walls of the bronchi become swollen and filled with an extra sticky mucus that partially blocks airflow in and out of your lungs, causing a cough that can bring up mucus. There are two types of bronchitis, and the primary difference is how long symptoms last.

  1. Acute bronchitis, also called a chest cold, typically develops from a cold or other respiratory infection, is typically viral (cannot be treated with antibiotics), and will often clear up on its own within a few weeks; however, can occasionally worsen and develop into pneumonia. Because acute bronchitis is typically caused by an infectious virus, such as Influenza (flu), it is considered contagious since the virus can cause bronchitis.
  2. Chronic bronchitis is a noncontagious cough that lasts at least three months, with recurring bouts of at least two consecutive years. It is an irreversible, more serious condition typically caused by smoking, which contributes to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It can also affect people suffering from asthma and those who live in areas with a lot of air pollution. Pulmonary rehabilitation, a breathing exercise program, may be recommended to help reduce shortness of breath and increase exercise ability. 

Symptoms of Bronchitis:

  • Persistent coughing
  • Production of clear, white, yellowish-gray or green mucus
  • Chest pain or congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue
  • Cold or flu-like symptoms such as a fever, slight chills, body aches, mild headache, or a sore throat

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. The lung’s air sacs (alveoli) become inflamed by germs and can fill with fluid or pus. This causes them to be less stretchy and makes it harder for oxygen to properly reach the blood stream. Pneumonia can also be caused by viruses or fungi – and these types do not respond to antibiotics; however, bacterial pneumonia is the most common type in adults and can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms of Pneumonia:

The most common symptoms of pneumonia can include the same symptoms of bronchitis:

  • Persistent coughing 
  • Production of clear, white, yellowish-gray or green mucus
  • Chest pain or congestion
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Fatigue

But may also include:

  • Persistent fever (often high), sweating, and chills
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Labored or rapid breathing
  • Abdominal pain
  • Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults older than age 65)
  • Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)

Preventing Pneumonia With Vaccine

While anyone can get pneumonia, infants under the age of two, adults over the age of 65, and people who have chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease) are most at risk due to a weaker immune system that may not be strong enough to fight the infection. Your health insurance coverage, including Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage (Part C), covers some vaccines and immunizations that can help prevent infection by some of the bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia, including:

  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles
  • Pertussis (whooping cough)
  • Pneumococcal
  • Varicella (chickenpox)

Related Information:

Recommended Vaccines and Immunizations for Seniors.

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Last Revised 11/15/2017