Difference Between COPD and Pneumonia

COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) and pneumonia are two respiratory conditions that affect the lungs, but they have distinct differences. COPD is a long-term, progressive disease that causes breathing difficulties and affects the airways, while pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in the lungs. In this essay, we will discuss the difference between COPD and pneumonia, their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options.

What is COPD?

COPD is a chronic lung disease that includes two main conditions, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Chronic bronchitis is a condition that causes inflammation and narrowing of the airways, leading to coughing, excess mucus production, and difficulty breathing. Emphysema is a condition that damages the air sacs in the lungs, making it difficult for oxygen to be absorbed into the bloodstream. Both conditions are usually caused by long-term exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, air pollution, and occupational dust and chemicals.

The risk factors causing COPD are:

  • Smoking;

  • Air pollution;

  • Frequent respiratory infections;

  • Prolonged and intensive exposure to harmful substances;

  • Hereditary deficiency of alpha-1-antitrypsin;

  • Age;

  • Gender, etc.

Most of the COPD patients are men, smokers, and over 40 years old. COPD proceeds with phases of improvement and exacerbation of the condition of the patient.

The most common symptoms of COPD are sputum, shortness of breath, productive cough, wheezing, pain and tightness in the chest, reduced physical capacity. Symptoms are present for a long time and tend to gradually worsen. With the progressing of the disease appear cyanosis, confusion, headache, insomnia, etc.

Diagnosis is made based on the clinical picture, examination, and spirometry. The disease cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be controlled to a certain extent. The cessation of smoking is a key point in the treatment.

The cough is a protective mechanism and it is not recommended to be suppressed. Upon exacerbation of the patient’s condition medications are prescribed, including bronchodilators, secretagogues, anti-asthma drugs, antibiotics, corticosteroids, anti-inflammatory drugs, etc. In the case of emphysema, lung volume reduction surgery and lung transplantation may be necessary.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in one or both lungs. It causes inflammation in the alveoli. They fill with pus or fluid, which makes breathing difficult.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi. The main types of pneumonia are classified according to the cause of the infection:

  • Bacterial pneumonia − the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae.

  • Viral pneumonia − caused by respiratory viruses.

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia − mycoplasma usually causes mild cases of pneumonia, most commonly in older children and young adults.

  • Fungal pneumonia − fungi can cause pneumonia, mainly in people with chronic illness or a weakened immune system.

Symptoms of pneumonia can be mild to life-threatening. The most common symptoms of pneumonia may include:

  • Cough with sputum (mucus);

  • Shortness of breath;

  • Sweating, chills, and fever;

  • Pain in the chests.

Other symptoms may vary depending on the cause and severity of the infection, as well as the age and general health of the individual.

  • Viral pneumonia can begin with flu-like symptoms. High temperature can occur after 12-36 hours. Bacterial pneumonia can cause fever, along with abundant sweating, bluish lips and nails, and confusion.

  • Both viral and bacterial pneumonia are contagious, the infection is spread by airborne droplet.

  • Fungal pneumonia does not spread from person to person.

Everyone can get pneumonia, but the risk is higher in:

  • Babies from birth to 2 years of age;

  • People over 65 years of age;

  • People with a weakened immune system;

  • People who smoke, abuse alcohol or drugs;

  • People with certain chronic diseases such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes or heart failure.

Diagnosis is done through laboratory, functional and imaging studies.

The possible complications of pneumonia are:

  • Bacteremia – bacteria in the bloodstream

  • Difficulty breathing

  • Fluid accumulation around the lungs

  • Lung abscess

The treatment depends on the type of pneumonia, how severe it is, and the general health of the patient. Antibiotics, antiviral, and antifungal drugs are used to treat pneumonia depending on the specific cause of the disease. Medicines can be prescribed to relieve pain and fever, if necessary, as well as cough medicines.

Differences: COPD and Pneumonia

In this section, let's highlight how COPD is different from Pneumonia:

  • Causes: COPD is most often caused by cigarette smoking, but it can also be caused by long-term exposure to air pollutants, such as chemicals and dust, or genetic factors. Pneumonia, on the other hand, is caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.

  • Symptoms: The symptoms of COPD and pneumonia overlap in some ways, but there are some differences. In COPD, the symptoms include shortness of breath, wheezing, chronic cough, chest tightness, and fatigue. In pneumonia, the symptoms include cough with phlegm, fever, chest pain, rapid breathing, and fatigue.

  • Diagnosis: COPD is typically diagnosed by spirometry, a lung function test that measures the amount of air a person can exhale and how quickly they can do it. Doctors may also perform imaging tests, such as a chest X-ray or CT scan, to evaluate the condition of the lungs. Pneumonia is diagnosed by physical examination, chest X-ray, blood tests, and sputum tests to identify the specific type of bacteria, virus, or fungus that is causing the infection.

  • Treatment: The treatment for COPD and pneumonia differs, depending on the cause and severity of the condition. For COPD, the primary goal of treatment is to manage symptoms and prevent further damage to the lungs. This may include bronchodilators, corticosteroids, oxygen therapy, and pulmonary rehabilitation. Smoking cessation is also an essential component of COPD treatment. For pneumonia, treatment usually involves antibiotics, antiviral medications, or antifungal medications, depending on the cause of the infection. Symptomatic relief may also be provided through the use of fever-reducing medications and cough suppressants.

  • Prevention: Preventing COPD and pneumonia involves different strategies. For COPD, the most effective prevention strategy is to avoid smoking or quit smoking if you are a smoker. Reducing exposure to air pollutants, such as dust and chemicals, can also help prevent COPD. For pneumonia, getting vaccinated against the bacterial and viral infections that can cause pneumonia is an effective prevention strategy. Good hygiene practices, such as frequent handwashing, can also help prevent the spread of germs that can cause pneumonia.

The following table highlights the major differences between COPD and Pneumonia:





COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease, causing poor airflow and long-term breathing problems.

Pneumonia is a bacterial, viral or fungal infection in one or both lungs, causing inflammation in the alveoli.


The most common causes of COPD are smoking, occupational dangers (dust, chemicals), and hereditary deficiency of alpha – 1 – antitrypsin.

Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi.


COPD occurs more often in men over 40 years of age.

The risk of pneumonia is higher in babies, people over 65 years of age, people with a weakened immune system, smokers, people who abuse alcohol or drugs, people with chronic diseases.


The most common symptoms of COPD are shortness of breath, productive cough with mucus – purulent or mucus expectoration, chest pain, reduced physical capacity, hiss in the chests.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia are a cough with sputum (mucus), shortness of breath, sweating, chills, fever, pain in the chests.


The possible complications of COPD are frequent respiratory infections, increased pressure in the lungs, development of right-sided heart failure, chronic oxygen deficiency, respiratory failure, and, fatal outcome.

The possible complications of pneumonia are bacteremia, difficulty breathing, fluid accumulation around the lungs, lung abscess.


The treatment of COPD can include cough medicines, bronchodilators, corticosteroids, antibiotics, anti-inflammatory, and anti-asthma drugs.

The only definitive solution in case of emphysema is lung transplantation.

Antibiotics, antiviral, and antifungal drugs are used to treat pneumonia depending on the specific cause of the disease.

Anti-inflammatory and cough medicines can be prescribed, if necessary.


While both COPD and pneumonia affect the lungs, they have different causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options. COPD is a chronic condition that causes breathing difficulties and is typically caused by cigarette smoking or exposure to air pollutants. Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in the lungs and is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Treatment for COPD aims to manage symptoms and prevent further lung damage, while treatment for pneumonia involves antibiotics or antiviral medications, depending on the cause of the infection. Prevention strategies for COPD involve avoiding smoking and reducing exposure to air pollutants, while preventing pneumonia involves getting vaccinated and practicing good hygiene.

Updated on: 15-May-2023


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