Bronchitis Or Pneumonia: What’s the Difference?

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Your cough won’t go away, and you feel miserable. Do you have bronchitis? Is it pneumonia? How can you tell?

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchial tree, which is a tree-looking series of tubes that carry air into your lungs. These tubes swell and fill with mucus when they are infected, which makes it hard to breathe.

Bronchitis is usually caused by a virus, but it can also be caused by bacteria. 

If you have bronchitis, your symptoms could include a cough that brings up mucus, wheezing, chest pain, shortness of breath, and a low fever.

Pneumonia is an infection that can settle in one or both of your lungs. Though pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi, bacteria is the most common cause.

Pneumonia causes the air sacs in your lungs to fill with fluid. Symptoms that go along with the sickness include cough, fever, chills and trouble breathing.

Bacterial pneumonia can make you very sick very fast, so it’s important to get medical help quickly and be treated with antibiotics. However, about one-third of the cases of pneumonia in the U.S. each year are caused by viruses, says the American Lung Association. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics.

“There’s typically not distinct symptoms that can tell pneumonia and bronchitis apart, because they typically overlap with cough, fever, sometimes difficulty breathing, as well,” says physician assistant Breanna Veal, PA-C.

Fortunately, having a chest X-ray can show a visible difference between what the lungs look like with bronchitis and with pneumonia. Watch Veal talk about ways to distinguish the two illnesses.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

She notes that it’s very easy to confuse bronchitis and pneumonia because the symptoms are often the same. The major difference between the two is that bronchitis is most often caused by a virus, and pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria. This is important not only in your diagnosis, but also in your treatment.

Watch Veal talk about how easy it is to confuse bronchitis and pneumonia.

Click play to watch the video or read video transcript.

“Pneumonia has to be treated with antibiotics, so you should seek treatment whenever you have a cough that is bothersome or you have shortness of breath, or if you have a fever,” Veal concludes.

It's easy to get the care you need.

See a Premier Physician Network provider near you.