Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia: What Are the Differences?

Bronchitis and Pneumonia both refer to lung disorders but differ in nature and severity. Both are respiratory infections that develop from bacteria or viruses. A basic difference is that bronchitis affects the bronchial tubes that carry air to the lungs while pneumonia affects the lung itself. Pneumonia can also be the result of fungal infections. Food or saliva getting into the lung can also cause pneumonia. In pneumonia, the air sacs found in the lungs are attacked by pus or fluids. The air sacs are called alveoli. Bronchitis could sometimes aggravate into pneumonia.

Bronchitis has 2 variations, acute and chronic. The milder acute version is caused by viruses and occasionally bacteria. Chronic refers to inflammation of the lungs that is prolonged in duration and intensity.




Fever and fatigue, low energy, confusion



Wheezing, breathing difficulty

Shortness of breath

Severe coughing

Severe coughing

Tightness in the chest

Chest pain

A clear, green, or yellow mucus

A green, yellow or bloody mucus

Sore throat

Sore throat

Feeling full

Nausea, vomiting, no appetite

Muscle pain

Characteristics of bronchitis

Along with fever and wheezing or trouble breathing, chills may be experienced. A tightness is felt in the chest and the cough is sometimes severe. Mucus may be clear, yellow, or green. A sore throat may occur.

Characteristics of pneumonia

Fever and fatigue are accompanied by minimized energy. Severe coughing with mucus that is clear, bloody, yellow, or green. Chest pain and shortness of breath with chills. Loss of appetite may occur along with nausea and vomiting. Muscle pain may be experienced.


Bronchitis is caused by viruses, bacteria, and environmental pollutants.

Pneumonia is the result of fungus, viruses, bacteria, and aspiration.


Bronchitis requires antibiotics rarely along with rest and fluid intake. Anti-inflammatory medications are administered along with treatments to facilitate breathing.

Pneumonia may be treated with medications like antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals. Supportive care would be required like rest and fluid intake.

Similar diagnostic procedures

The diagnosis of bronchitis and pneumonia follow similar procedures. Along with a medical history and statement of symptoms, a stethoscope is used to study the chest and lungs. Deep breathing helps to amplify the sounds. Whistling and rattling sounds as they occur in wheezing indicate either of the conditions.

Additional diagnostic testing

  • In a pulse oximetry test, the oxygen content in the blood is checked with a clip attached to the finger.

  • A pulmonary function test uses a spirometer that tests the lungs and their capacity to hold air. The patient is asked to blow out the air and the force is measured.

  • A sputum culture tests a sample of phlegm to identify the kind of germs present.

  • An X-ray of the chest reveals lung infections to conclude if it is bronchitis or pneumonia.

Several Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia similarities

Enumerating the diverse points of resemblance, no wonder that bronchitis and pneumonia are mistaken for one another. Cough and mucus, shortness of breath, and chest discomfort are common in both conditions. In bronchitis, the cough may persist and a low fever may occur. Bronchitis could be acute which means temporary or the chronic type that last months or even years. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is chronic bronchitis. Industrial bronchitis arises due to fumes, smoke, and dust from the working conditions.

In the midst of the confusion in distinguishing between the two, the part of the respiratory system that suffers is to be considered. Bronchitis affects the air passages that lead into the lungs. Pneumonia means an infection of the lung or lungs.

Bronchitis results usually from environmental pollutants like cigarette smoke or smog. Alternatively, bronchitis comes from viruses or bacteria, sometimes from fungi. Affecting the upper airways, acute bronchitis may last for a few weeks and disappear without medication.

In both conditions, a cough arises and may be accompanied by phlegm, a thick mucus formed in the chest.

Bronchitis symptoms

Acute bronchitis results from an infection that resolves over a few weeks but pneumonia is a long-term condition. Pneumonia results from frequent exposure to chemicals or smoke. Acute bronchitis may result in a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, fever, and exhaustion. Body aches and headaches may be present. The phlegm may be yellow or green. The acute bronchitis symptoms reduce within days but the cough may last much longer.

Chronic Bronchitis

The cough persists in chronic bronchitis that may continue for 3 months with ups and downs. COPD types include asthma and emphysema. In COPD and in chronic bronchitis, the symptoms are wheezing and fatigue, shortness of breath, and a heavy chest. Mostly caused by a virus, acute bronchitis could also be caused by bacteria.

What is common to viral and bacterial bronchitis are germs that enter the bronchial tubes. A cold could also lead to bronchitis. Chronic bronchitis comes from excessive pollution in the air, dust, and smoke. The high-risk group includes those who smoke, senior citizens, lung disease sufferers, and workers exposed to fumes and chemicals.

Treatments for bronchitis

The two variations, acute and chronic bronchitis, would be treated differently. Acute bronchitis is treated with steroids or antibiotics, antiviral medications, and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Rest is advised and plenty of fluid intake. The patient recovers within weeks.

Chronic bronchitis may require quitting smoking and altering home and workplace surroundings. Treatments typically include bronchodilators or oxygen therapy, according to severity. Mucolytics are prescribed and pulmonary recuperation.

Watch out for symptoms of pneumonia

Since pneumonia presents certain risks of aggravation into serious conditions, be on guard. The symptoms could reflect mild or severe pneumonia. A cough could produce yellow or green phlegm. High fever could accompany the fatigue. Chilly shivering and sweating are common. Chest pain with deep breathing may be found. Shortness of breath along with vomiting and diarrhea may happen. Confusion in the elderly and blue lips from oxygen deprivation may occur in patients.

Gentle caring is advised for recovery

Speedy recovery in either condition requires ample rest. Ingesting ample fluids breaks up the mucus. A humidifier also loosens mucus. Alcohol and caffeine could cause dehydration. Anti-inflammatory medication brings fever and aches under control. A cough medication helps get better sleep.

Updated on: 06-Feb-2023


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