Signs & Symptoms of Bronchitis Vs. Pneumonia

By Robert Vaux

  • Overview

    Bronchitis and pneumonia both affect the passages leading to your lungs. They can have similar symptoms and may appear to be the same to a casual observer. They are not the same condition, however, and as such must be diagnosed correctly, which will speed your recovery time significantly.
  • Definition

    In strictest terms, bronchitis and pneumonia differ in their causes. Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus infection. Bronchitis, on the other hand, is a specific inflammation of the air passages leading to the lungs: it is almost exclusively caused by a virus. Pneumonia tends to have more far-reaching effects than bronchitis and indeed, in some cases bronchitis can be considered an extended symptom of pneumonia.
  • Sweating and Clamminess

    Because pneumonia may be caused by a bacteria, it often exhibits more widespread symptoms, including excessive sweating and clammy skin. Bronchitis solely effects the lungs, and while sweat may occur in some cases, it is not nearly as prevalent as it is with pneumonia.

  • Fever

    Bronchitis is sometimes accompanied by a fever, but the patient's temperature often stays below 101 degrees F. If the fever rises beyond that, it's probably a case of pneumonia and the patient should be taken to a doctor immediately.
  • Antibiotics

    Because pneumonia is an infection, it can be treated efficiently with antibiotics. Antibiotics rarely help a case of bronchitis, since it is usually viral rather than bacterial.
  • Back Pain and Chest Pain

    Bronchitis may be accompanied by a certain tightness or inflammation in the chest, but pneumonia is often accompanied by significant chest or back pain. This is because the lungs themselves have been infected, while bronchitis is simply an inflammation of the air passages leading to the lungs.
  • Heartbeat and Mucus Color

    If the mucus you are coughing up contains a great deal of greenish or brownish material, it is probably coming from the lungs and is therefore a case of pneumonia. Furthermore, with pneumonia, the patient's heart rate tends to be extremely rapid--greater than 100 beats per minute. That's less common in bronchitis.
  • Considerations

    The effects of bronchitis tend to be milder than pneumonia overall, and are rarely fatal the way they can be with pneumonia. Nevertheless, severe viral bronchitis can often be indistinguishable from pneumonia, and will likely take a doctor's examination to differentiate. (He can take an x-ray to determine whether there is an infection in the lungs themselves.) Regardless of the circumstances, you should always speak to a doctor when experiencing bronchial or pneumonia symptoms, and follow any advice or prescriptions he gives you.
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