What is the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia?


Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health

Bronchitis & Pneumonia Explained

Cold and flu season is here, and dodging these illnesses at school or the office can be a challenge when they are going around. While most people recover from colds and the flu quickly, either of these can lead to bronchitis or pneumonia.

Bronchitis and pneumonia share many of the same symptoms of cold and flu. By determining the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia, you can seek the proper treatment and be back on the road to recovery much more quickly.

Both bronchitis and pneumonia affect the airways, resulting in coughing and discomfort. Their biggest difference is how! In short, bronchitis is an inflammation of the airways while pneumonia is an infection of the lungs.

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tubes, which are the airways which carry air to your lungs. Bronchitis can occur from environmental, viral, or bacterial causes. The same viruses which cause cold and flu can also cause bronchitis.

What is the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia? - Florida Medical Clinic Orlando HealthBronchitis is marked by a persistent cough which brings up mucus, and may be accompanied by chest tightness, a low fever, and shortness of breath. There are two types of bronchitis: acute and chronic.

Acute bronchitis usually goes away within a few days to a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis is one form of COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and can occur for several months at a time; treatment can improve symptoms, but not cure them.

Industrial bronchitis refers to a condition which can affect certain people who are regularly exposed to fumes, dust, or smoke. The airways become irritated and result in coughing and mucus production. Symptoms may go away on their own, or medication or air filters (especially face masks) may be required to improve symptoms.

Your doctor can diagnose bronchitis by assessing your symptoms as well as listening to your chest with a stethoscope for the rattling sound in your lungs which accompanies bronchitis.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs which can result from bacteria, viruses, or fungi. These can be acquired by airborne sources (such as sneezing or coughing), or can occur when bacteria or viruses in the nose and sinuses spread to the lungs.

What is the Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia? - Florida Medical Clinic Orlando HealthMuch like bronchitis, people with pneumonia will experience a cough which brings up mucus, as well as a shortness of breath. Pneumonia may similarly be accompanied by a fever – although the fever may be high, unlike bronchitis.

Pneumonia may also cause confusion, clammy or sweaty skin, headache, malaise, loss of appetite, sharp chest pain, or leukonychia (white nail syndrome). Unlike bronchitis, pneumonia can be life-threatening.

You may have heard the term “Walking Pneumonia”. This is an informal term for pneumonia which isn’t severe enough to require hospitalization or bed rest. Most people with walking pneumonia can go about their daily activities as normal.

Pneumonia affects how air is distributed to blood cells. When cells do not get enough oxygen, they cannot function properly. As a result, the infection may spread and become deadly.

Pneumonia is diagnosed with a chest x-ray and/or blood tests. Your doctor may also be able to identify pneumonia by the sounds of crackling, wheezing, or bubbling in your chest.

When A Cold or Flu Becomes Something Else

Complications can arise from either a cold or the flu, especially in the very young, the elderly, or people with compromised immune systems.

You should see a doctor if you experience the following symptoms:

  • If your cough continues after your cold or flu is gone
  • If you have a fever, especially over 101°
  • If you are coughing up discolored phlegm (yellow or green; clear to cloudy is normal)
  • If you are coughing up blood
  • If you are wheezing
  • If you are having night sweats

While your doctor is the best resource for making a conclusive identification of your illness, keep an eye out for symptoms at home if you have a cold or the flu. Only you know how you feel. If you have any doubts at all, it may be best to consult your doctor in order to rule out potentially serious conditions.

Treatment at Florida Medical Clinic Orlando Health

Most healthy people can recover from either bronchitis or pneumonia within a few weeks of treatment. However, complications can arise from either a cold or the flu. In these cases, it’s important to see your doctor as soon as possible to prevent your condition from worsening. The sooner that you seek treatment, the shorter your recovery time will be!

Click here to view our department of board-certified Pulmonology & Sleep Medicine providers.


Family Medicine • Pulmonology & Sleep Disorders • Urgent Care

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