How do I know if I have pneumonia or bronchitis?

Pneumonia and bronchitis are called lower respiratory diseases because they affect your lungs or the airways leading into the lungs. Upper respiratory diseases such as colds affect your nose, throat and sinuses.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung caused by bacteria, viruses or fungus.

The air sacs in the lungs fill with pus or other liquid, and prevent enough oxygen from getting into your body. This keeps your cells from working as well as they should. Without the right treatment, this lack of oxygen can kill.

Death from pneumonia is rare among otherwise healthy people. Children, the elderly and people with AIDS or tuberculosis are vulnerable if pneumonia sets in. While better treatment has reduced the number of deaths in the United States, it’s the seventh leading cause of death.

Types of pneumonia include bacterial, viral and mycoplasma. Less common is pneumonia called pneumocystis carinii. It’s caused by a fungus and mostly strikes people with AIDS.

Tuberculosis can also cause pneumonia. Walking pneumonia isn’t an exact medical term. But your doctor may use it to describe pneumonia that isn’t severe enough for bed rest.

Another term you might hear is double pneumonia, which means both lungs are affected. This is very common.


Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, the airways that connect the windpipe to the lungs. Bronchitis makes it harder for air to pass through the lungs. When these tubes get infected, they swell and mucus forms, causing you to cough mucus and wheeze.

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic. Acute means the condition comes on quickly and can cause severe symptoms, but only lasts a few weeks. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses and affects most people at some point in their lives.

Chronic bronchitis usually affects people who smoke or are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. Like emphysema, this condition is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed if someone has a productive cough for three months at a time during two consecutive years. The bronchi are chronically inflamed and irritated. People with chronic bronchitis may be short of breath and are vulnerable to bacterial infections of the airway and lungs. More than 11 million Americans are diagnosed with chronic bronchitis each year. The condition is more common in women. Chronic bronchitis affects people of all ages, but is higher in people older than 45. In 2000 more than 1,100 Americans died from chronic bronchitis.

Chronic bronchitis is very serious and should be treated as soon as possible. drugs has brought the disease under control but it’s still the sixth leading cause of death.

Bronchitis affects the air passages (bronchi) that carry air to the lungs from the main airway (the trachea). Inflammation from infection or irritation damages the cells that line the airways. These cells normally contain tiny hairs (cilia) that trap and remove foreign particles you breathe in every day. When the cilia stop working, the air passages become clogged with debris. This increases the irritation even more. In response, the airways start to produce a thick substance (mucus), which causes a unique type of cough. As the irritation continues, the airways become more vulnerable to further infection and tissue damage. Bronchitis may be acute or chronic. Brief bouts of acute bronchitis (lasting about 10 days) often happen following a severe cold or flu. However, bronchitis may also start on its own, withno prior infection. Chronic bronchitis lasts three months or more, and symptoms can return year after year. Chronic bronchitis can be life-threatening. The condition may come from a series of acute bronchitis attacks, or it may develop gradually because of heavy smoking or inhaling polluted air.

Almost all cases of acute bronchitis are caused by viruses. Many cases of chronic bronchitis come from repeated exposure to irritants such as smoke. This means antibiotic therapy won’t help. These drugs can only affect bacterial illnesses and can’t fight viral illnesses or irritants. Also, a type of asthma, which produces little wheezing but a lot of cough, is often misdiagnosed as acute bronchitis.

The best treatments for most cases of bronchitis are to avoid irritants, maintain good nutrition, and be patient. Some cases of viral bronchitis can take eight to 12 weeks to clear up. In longer cases of bronchitis, antibiotics or even asthma inhalers may help. Severe chronic bronchitis may cause the bronchi to dilate. That makes them more susceptible to severe – and sometimes drug-resistant – bacterial infections. Avoiding irritants such as cigarette smoke becomes even more important in these cases.


A major cause of acute bronchitis is:

* Viruses

Major causes of chronic bronchitis include:

* Tobacco smoke, pollutants, dust

* Bacteria

Major causes of pneumonia include:

* Mycoplasmas: the smallest free-living organisms that cause disease

* Viruses

* Bacteria

Other causes:

* Pneumocystis carinii: a fungus that causes pneumonia in many people with AIDS

* Inhaled food, liquid, gases, dust or fungi

* Spirochete: causes Rocky Mountain spotted fever, Q fever and typhus, which may all affect the lungs

* Tuberculosis pneumonia: a very serious and extremely dangerous disease, if it is not treated early Risk factors for pneumonia and bronchitis include:

* Poor nutrition and general ill health (such as from alcohol abuse or while recovering from surgery)

* Chronic illness (lung disease, kidney disorders, sickle cell anemia, diabetes)

* Weakened immune systems (such as from AIDS or use of immunosuppressant drugs)

People older than 65 (especially those in nursing homes or other chronic care facilities) are at greatest risk for bacterial (pneumococcal) pneumonia. People who may not have these risk factors may still get pneumonia.

Additional risk factors for bronchitis include:

* Smoking and secondhand smoke

* Chronic sinus infections

* Allergies

* Air pollutants, such as smoke or smog

* Contact with infected persons

Preventive measures

Pneumonia and bronchitis can be caused by influenza (flu). Getting a flu shot every fall is a good way to prevent these conditions from developing. A vaccine against pneumococcal pneumonia is also available. It’s usually given only to people at high risk of getting the disease and its life-threatening complications. The viruses that cause bronchitis are contagious and are usually found in fluid from the mouth or nose of an infected person. Illness can spread by coughs and sneezes, by drinking glasses and eating utensils, and in used tissues or handkerchiefs. So, patients should use care to prevent spreading these diseases to other people. You might increase your resistance to all respiratory diseases by keeping good health habits, eating a proper diet, getting plenty of rest and exercising regularly. These activities will also help you recover faster if you get sick.


Pneumonia can be serious, but it’s an infection that can be treated easily without a hospital stay if caught early. Acute bronchitis usually goes away on its own. Chronic bronchitis is very serious and should be treated as soon as possible.

Source: The News, 28/10/2008

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *