Difference between Bronchitis vs Pneumonia
Bronchitis and pneumonia are two distinct conditions, but they are often confused because of the strong similarity in symptoms. Both conditions affect the respiratory tract and can be triggered by the same infections. Any individual who has been diagnosed with bronchitis or pneumonia is therefore at risk of developing the other condition as well. Both conditions also tend to surface during the winter months, when respiratory infections peak, with the common cold, flu, and now, COVID-19 also posing a threat. However, they are very distinct conditions and it helps to understand the differences.
Differences Between Bronchitis vs Pneumonia
In bronchitis, inflammation affects the lining of the bronchial tubes or bronchi, giving it the name bronchitis. These airways are responsible for transporting air to and from the lungs. The condition results in inflammation and mucus build-up in the airways, which can lead to coughing and breathing problems. Individuals afflicted with bronchitis tend to cough up thick discoloured mucus. There are different types of bronchitis and the condition may be acute or chronic.
Pneumonia describes an inflammatory infection of the air sacs or alveoli in one or both lungs. This is often a complication from other infections. As a result of the infection and inflammation there is commonly an accumulation of fluid or pus in the alveoli, which causes coughing with phlegm, as well as other symptoms such as fever and chills, as well as difficulty breathing.
Causes of Bronchitis vs Pneumonia
In most cases of bronchitis, the condition develops as a result of infections with the same viruses that cause common infections like the seasonal flu and common cold. At times, these viruses reach lower in the respiratory tract, causing bronchitis. In such cases, where it is a temporary infection, it is described as acute bronchitis. It is usually not severe and doesn’t cause permanent damage to the lungs. Chronic bronchitis that persists indefinitely is more threatening however and can even give rise to pneumonia.
Pneumonia, on the other hand, is most of caused by bacterial infection, but it can also develop as a result of a viral infection like the flu or common cold. A good case in point would be pneumonia that develops as a result of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Fungal infections can also give rise to pneumonia in some cases, but this is generally only a problem in individuals with suppressed immunity and chronic health conditions.
Complications of Bronchitis vs Pneumonia
Acute bronchitis usually resolves without causing any complications, but can be threatening for anyone with a weakened immune system, as it can lead to pneumonia or sepsis. The risk of complications from chronic bronchitis is far greater and it can even lead to fatalities as a result of heart or lung damage due to poor oxygen flow to the organs.
Pneumonia can also pose a risk of complications, but the severity of the threat varies greatly, depending on the age of the patient and underlying health conditions. Babies, young children, aged adults, and those with certain chronic illnesses can be vulnerable to organ damage from reduced blood oxygen, as well as death from respiratory failure, lung abscesses, or shock.
Breathing disorders like bronchitis and pneumonia can deteriorate rapidly, making it important to seek timely medical care. Do not attempt self-treatment for such conditions, especially if there is any experience of breathlessness, high fever, persistence of symptoms with home treatment or recurrence of symptoms, or if any respiratory symptoms develop in young children, babies, or aged adults.
Dr Sudhir Prasad
Consultant – Pulmonologist & Sleep Medicine
Disclaimer:The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the organization.