The Doctors at South Tampa Immediate Care Explain the Key Differences Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

differences-btw-bronchitis-pneumonia-bigstock-woman-cough-feverWith flu season upon us, and the variety of germs we are exposed to on a daily basis, it can sometimes be tricky to figure out exactly what is keeping us down, particularly with regard to respiratory ailments.  Bronchitis and pneumonia often share a common root cause—both illnesses can result from a viral, bacterial, or fungal infection of the respiratory system.  The main difference, however, is the location of the infection.  Bronchitis involves an irritation of the mucous membranes in the bronchi, or air tubes, that lead from the trachea to the lungs.  This can damage the cilia, which work to trap and remove the foreign particles we breathe every day.  These fine hairs then sweep the germs up to the nose or mouth, from where they are coughed or sneezed out of the body.  If this debris cannot exit the body properly, mucous develops in the airways.  On the other hand, pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung tissue itself, which results in a blockage of the normal flow of oxygen to the blood.

Although bronchitis and pneumonia share many of the same indicators, there are some important differences between the two.  First and foremost, while acute bronchitis usually resolves itself within a few weeks, pneumonia is a much more serious and long-lasting illness, particularly in children, the elderly, and others who may have compromised immune systems.  Further, complications from pneumonia can be life-threatening if the organisms involved overwhelm the immune system—and this can occur even in otherwise healthy people.  Therefore, if you develop symptoms, it is critical to see a qualified, experienced doctor right away for proper evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.

Even though bronchitis and pneumonia tend to mimic each other, there are some subtle distinctions among their symptoms to look out for:

  • Cough – While bronchitis usually begins with a dry cough that progresses to a productive cough, pneumonia manifests itself with a phlegmy cough.

  • Fever – Patients suffering from either affliction can experience a fever and shaking chills; however, pneumonia is characterized by a high fever, while the fever associated with bronchitis is generally mild.

  • Chest pain – Pneumonia is often accompanied by sharp or stabbing chest pain, which typically does not affect bronchitis sufferers, who normally experience only slight discomfort.

  • Onset – The overall symptoms of pneumonia come on very quickly, while the signs of bronchitis commence more gradually.

Differentiating between bronchitis and pneumonia can be challenging for a patient, and a correct diagnosis is of utmost importance in the effective management and treatment of respiratory disorders.  Therefore, if you live in the Tampa area and are experiencing any of these symptoms, or would like to learn more about bronchitis and pneumonia, please stop by our walk-in clinic or contact the doctors at South Tampa Immediate Care.