How to Tell the Difference: Asthma or Pneumonia

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Although asthma and pneumonia affect your lungs, the causes and symptoms are different. Asthma, which is a chronic lung disease, occurs in the bronchial tubes or airways in your lungs. Pneumonia, which is caused by fungi, parasites, bacteria or viruses, causes inflammation in your lungs. Both can be life-threatening if left untreated.

  • Know the signs and symptoms of asthma and pneumonia. With asthma, you may episodes where you feel fine and have no trouble breathing. However, asthma symptoms can be mild or severe and can vary, but are different pneumonia symptoms. When you suffer from an asthma attack, you may experience chest tightness, shortness of breath or wheezing. You may also encounter trouble sleeping at night because of a constant cough or shortness of breath.

    Shortness of breathe and cough, however, are not the only pneumonia symptoms. If you have pneumonia, you can experience other symptoms such as a fever that is 102 degrees F or higher, chills, sweating and headache. In addition, you can feel extremely tired, have muscle pain or chest pain that fluctuates with breathing.

  • Understand the causes of asthma and pneumonia. The cause of your asthma may come from genetic, environmental or a combination of both factors. If you have asthma there are triggers or exposures to irritants or allergens, which can cause you to have an asthma attack. For instance, you may have exercise-induced asthma, which only occurs with physical activity. Or cold air, respiratory infections, stress and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) can cause your asthma attack. Allergic reactions to shellfish or peanuts, airborne allergens like mold or pollen, or irritants such as smoke can also trigger your asthma.

    When you suffer from pneumonia, organisms--from viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites--invade your lungs. Your white blood cells attack them to protect you from becoming sick. However, as the organisms accumulate, the tiny air sacs in your lungs become filled with fluid.

  • Risk factors can determine if you have asthma or pneumonia. A number of factors can put you at risk for developing asthma, according to the Mayo Clinic. For instance, you may have a family history of asthma, being overweight, or exposure to air pollution or chemicals used in hairdressing or manufacturing.

    Factors that can increase your risk of pneumonia depend on how your compromised your immune system is. For example, if you have an illness, such as HIV/AIDS, or a chronic disease, including emphysema, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, you are at greater risk for pneumonia.

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