Symptoms of pneumonia and bronchitis often mimic each other, but these two types of infection vary greatly in their origin and in their treatment.
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs brought on by an infection. The infection can be viral, bacterial or fungal, or it can be caused by a parasite. It often occurs as a result of, or along with, another condition, such as the flu. The severity of pneumonia can be mild to life threatening. The inflammation involved in bronchitis, however, is in the lining of the bronchial tubes that branch off the lungs. The condition can be either acute or chronic. Acute bronchitis results from a primary infection, such as a cold. Chronic bronchitis is ongoing, with an irritation brought about by smoking or as a condition related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Symptoms of pneumonia include fever, cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, chills, sweating, headache, muscle aches and fatigue. Bronchitis symptoms are coughing, wheezing, fatigue, shortness of breath, chills, mild fever and chest pain. The production of mucus is also evident, and the mucus may vary in color. In cases of acute bronchitis, the cough can last for weeks, even after all other symptoms have disappeared. In patients with chronic bronchitis, the cough may be worse in wet weather and in the morning hours. Patients with chronic bronchitis also have frequent respiratory infections.
Patients with bacterial pneumonia are usually prescribed antibiotics, which should be taken as directed and until all medicine has been used. Viral pneumonia is treated with rest and plenty of fluids. Mycoplasma, or walking, pneumonia, presents milder symptoms, which may go away on their own. However, antibiotics are sometimes prescribed. In cases of fungal pneumonia, antifungal medication is typically administered. In bronchitis cases, the most common treatment is rest and a lot of fluids. Over-the-counter medications, like acetaminophen and ibuprofen, may be recommended to reduce fever and ease discomfort. In both pneumonia and bronchitis treatments, cough suppressants are generally not recommended, because coughing clears the lungs. However, mild cough suppressants may be used to ease coughing that prevents adequate rest.
Pneumonia can be particularly dangerous for young children, older people and for patients who smoke or have compromised immune systems. (Patients undergoing chemotherapy, who have HIV or AIDS or who take steroids may be more susceptible to complications from pneumonia.) Bronchitis can develop into pneumonia and other respiratory conditions.
Immunizations against certain strains of pneumonia are available and may be encouraged among certain high-risk segments of the population. The vaccine for streptococcus pneumoniae, for example, was introduced in 2000 to help prevent this strain of bacterial pneumonia among children. Check with your physician or health care provider to learn if you would benefit from an immunization against pneumonia.