Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia: Here’s What You Need to Know

A man in a long-sleeve shirt sitting on a sofa with one hand on his chest and the other in a fist in front of his mouth coughing.

Are you or a loved one currently experiencing a nagging cough that won’t quit?

It can be hard to decipher precisely what your cough could be from, especially because most of us automatically think COVID is the underlying reason for it since the rise of the pandemic. Although many people are still testing positive for COVID, there are other, more common respiratory conditions that may be causing your unrelenting cough.

Two of the most common respiratory conditions are bronchitis and pneumonia. They affect millions of people each year, and their primary symptom is a bad cough.

In fact, nearly 1.5 million people visit the emergency room each year, leaving with a pneumonia diagnosis. Conversely, about 5% of the population is diagnosed with acute bronchitis yearly.

If you are experiencing symptoms consistent with each condition or are simply curious about them, it is essential to know what differentiates the two.

Let’s explore bronchitis and pneumonia in more detail, including exactly what they are, how they’re caused, their symptoms, and exactly how to diagnose and treat them.

What Is Bronchitis?

In simplest terms, bronchitis is an Inflammation of the lining of bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from the lungs.

Acute bronchitis, the most common type, is often caused by a viral infection such as a cold or flu.

When you are infected, your bronchial tubes swell and fill with mucus, making it harder than usual to breathe.

Acute bronchitis is sometimes referred to as a chest cold, and most cases can heal on their own within 2 weeks without the need for prescription medication or medical diagnosis and treatment.

Conversely, chronic bronchitis is a more serious condition that equates to constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes. This type is often caused by smoking and requires medical attention.

What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that directly affects and inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs.

When pneumonia occurs, the air sacs can become filled with mucus or pus, leading to a phlegm-filled cough.

Pneumonia can be caused by various factors, including viruses, bacteria, and even fungi. Bacteria is the most common cause.

The severity of pneumonia can range from mild to severe depending on the person and cause.

It is important to note that viral pneumonia is not treated using antibiotics, but bacteria pneumonia must be treated by a medical professional. If you suspect you may have pneumonia, it is vital to seek further diagnosis from your doctor or an urgent care facility.

Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia Symptoms

Explore the list below to differentiate bronchitis symptoms from pneumonia symptoms.

Chest painSometimesUsually
Shortness of breathSometimesUsually
Confusion (especially in those 65 and older)RareUsually
FeverSometimes, but low gradeUsually
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrheaRareUsually
Lowered body temperature (especially in those 65 and older)RareUsually

Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia: Diagnosis and Treatment Options

Although bronchitis and pneumonia have similar symptoms, there are some differences in how they are treated, especially if they are caused by different things. Both bronchitis and pneumonia are diagnosed using a chest x-ray and sputum test.

Blood testing may be used to determine the cause of your pneumonia along with a review of your oxygen levels using a pulse oximetry test.

Bronchitis Treatment

Most cases of bronchitis are viral-based. Due to this, antibiotics are an ineffective treatment option.

The most common way to treat bronchitis is with a focus on symptom mitigation. Some medications that can be helpful include over-the-counter cough suppressants, pain relievers, and, in more severe cases, a prescription inhaler to reduce inflammation.

Pneumonia Treatment

Effective pneumonia treatment is based solely on the cause of the condition itself.

If your pneumonia is caused by bacteria, you will be prescribed an antibiotic.

If your pneumonia is caused by a virus, your treatment plan will focus more on symptom mitigation and may include over-the-counter cough suppressants, pain relievers, and fever reducers.

In rare cases, especially for young children and older adults, hospitalization may be required, especially if you are experiencing

  • Low blood pressure
  • Low blood oxygen levels
  • Rapid breathing
  • Dehydration
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Confusion
  • Below-normal body temperature

Comprehensive Respiratory Treatment at Getwell Urgent Care

If you or a loved one is experiencing symptoms consistent with bronchitis or pneumonia, our compassionate and experienced team at Getwell Urgent Care can help. We are open seven days a week and can diagnose and treat lung conditions such as pneumonia. Don’t delay care; get seen today.