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Bronchitis Vs. Pneumonia

Bronchitis Vs. Pneumonia

Bronchitis and pneumonia are two different conditions, though both affect the lungs and the respiratory system. Bronchitis is the inflammation of the air passages, while pneumonia is characterized by an infection of the lung tissues. Discover more about the differences between these two conditions with this article.
Chandramita Bora
Last Updated: Apr 8, 2018
Bronchitis and pneumonia are respiratory ailments, as both the conditions affect the respiratory system, which includes the lungs, pleural cavity, bronchial tubes, trachea and the upper respiratory tract.

Despite sharing some common symptoms, considerable differences exist between these two conditions. Bronchitis can be controlled with the help of medications, whereas pneumonia is considered relatively serious, and is difficult to treat.

A proper understanding about the differences between these two conditions is, therefore, very important for their early detection and treatment. This can help speed up the entire process of recovery. So, let's find out some important differences between these two respiratory conditions, and ways to get rid of them.

Bronchitis Vs. Pneumonia
Bronchitis is a disease characterized by the inflammation of the bronchi or the bronchial tubes, that carry air to the lungs. It can be caused by bacterial and viral infections, and exposure to irritants, like smoke.
is an infection of the lung tissues, which can lead to the accumulation of fluid or pus within the alveoli (the air sacs) of lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and other microorganisms.
is mainly of two types, acute and chronic. Acute bronchitis usually lasts for a week or so, while chronic bronchitis can last for more than three months. Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and is usually characterized by a cough that persists for at least 3 months in a year, for two consecutive years.
can be of several types, such as viral pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia, community-acquired pneumonia, hospital-acquired pneumonia, atypical pneumonia, eosinophilic pneumonia, mycoplasma pneumonia, chemical pneumonia, inhalation or aspiration pneumonia, dust pneumonia, etc.
Causes and Risk Factors
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viral infections. Viruses responsible for causing cold and influenza can cause acute bronchitis too. It has been observed that, people often develop acute bronchitis from cold or other respiratory infections.

Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, is caused by the long term irritation and inflammation of the bronchi, especially due to inhalation of smoke. Cigarette smoking is considered the main risk factor for this condition. Even exposure to second-hand smoke can raise the risk for developing chronic bronchitis. Exposure to dust and toxic fumes can also cause chronic bronchitis, by irritating the bronchial epithelium.
Pneumonia is commonly caused by bacterial and viral infections. Fungi or parasites, exposure to pollutants, and inhalation of certain foreign substances, can cause pneumonia too. People can get pneumonia as a complication of flu as well.

Chemical and physical injury to the lungs can also cause pneumonia at times. Medical conditions that weaken the immune system, smoking, exposure to certain pollutants and chemicals, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and long-term use of inhaled corticosteroids, are regarded as the main risk factors for pneumonia. Incidence of pneumonia is more among young children, as their immune systems are not fully developed.

Cough is the main symptom of both acute and chronic bronchitis, which in the early stage, can be dry. A dry cough can cause pain or discomfort in the chest, as well as in the ribs and abdomen. Within a few days, one can experience productive cough with clear, yellowish-gray or green sputum. The cough caused by acute bronchitis can linger for several days, after all the other symptoms have resolved.

In case of chronic bronchitis, the cough can last for months, and become particularly worse in the morning and in wet weather. Excessive coughing can sometimes irritate and damage the small blood vessels of the air passages of the lungs, which can cause the appearance of blood in sputum (hemoptysis). Wheezing, fatigue, and mild to moderate fever and chills, are some other symptoms of bronchitis.
Pneumonia also causes cough. A dry or non-productive cough is usually experienced in case of viral pneumonia, which may gradually worsen into a productive cough. With bacterial pneumonia, one can experience a cough that produces green, pus-like or rust-colored sputum. Chest pain can also be experienced while coughing. In the early stage, pneumonia can produce flu-like symptoms.

A high-grade fever is another common symptom of pneumonia, as there is infection in the lungs. Fever can be accompanied by shaking chills and chattering teeth. Other symptoms include, difficulty in breathing, chest pain while taking deep breaths, sweating, headache, fatigue, muscle pain, palpitation, and nausea and vomiting. In severe cases, skin color may change, due to poor oxygenation of blood.

The diagnosis of both the diseases begin with the examination of a sample of the sputum of the patient, in order to detect whether the disease is caused by bacteria or virus. In addition to this, a chest X-ray is carried out, if pneumonia is suspected. Blood tests are also performed to find out the count of white blood cells, as it provides important information regarding the severity and the type of infection. An elevated level of neutrophils suggests bacterial infection, while an increase in the level of lymphocytes can indicate viral infection.

Pulmonary function test is another test, that is employed for the diagnosis of bronchitis, which measures how well the lungs are working. Sometimes, bronchoscopy is done in case of pneumonia, for examining the air passages. This invasive test is usually performed, if the condition of the patient has worsened during the course of treatment, or if the patient has a severely compromised immune system, due to certain underlying medical conditions.

If bronchitis is caused by bacteria, then it can be treated with antibiotics. However, if it is caused by a viral infection, then the infection usually runs its own course. In case of chronic bronchitis, inhalers and medications for reducing inflammation of the air passages can be prescribed by your physician. Pulmonary rehabilitation, which is a breathing exercise program, is also recommended for people with chronic bronchitis.
Bacterial pneumonia is treated with the help of antibiotics, while for viral pneumonia, physicians can prescribe antiviral drugs. If pneumonia causes a high-grade fever, then antipyretics are used for reducing the body temperature. Cough medications are also recommended to relieve congestion.

Though both bronchitis and pneumonia are common diseases among all age groups, the symptoms are found to be more severe in elderly and people afflicted with chronic diseases. The appropriate treatment and recovery depend to a great extent on the determination of the exact causes, i.e., whether they are caused by bacteria, or virus, or any other factor.

Disclaimer: This article is for informative purposes only, and should not be considered as a substitute for professional medical advice.