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You have taken cold drinks or ice cream at night and get a common cold or flu. It can be detected instantly by a scratch at the back of the throat or a cough. Contrary to this, you feel a lingering cough coming from the depth of the chest. How will you tell if you are suffering from bronchitis or pneumonia? Bronchitis vs pneumonia is a common dilemma. People are often confused between the two as they have similar symptoms. Moreover, both are respiratory diseases, except that Bronchitis affects the upper respiratory tract while pneumonia affects the lower one. 

The confusion between bronchitis and pneumonia is common, but don’t worry! This blog will take you from A to Z of bronchitis vs pneumonia. From bronchitis and pneumonia symptoms to can bronchitis turn into pneumonia, this blog will enlighten you with every aspect. 

Bronchitis vs Pneumonia – What You Need to Know

First, let’s start with the primary insights into the topic. 

Bronchitis and pneumonia are both linked to respiratory conditions. Both affect the lungs and cause inflammation. However, the target of infection differs in both cases. Bronchitis affects the bronchial tubes (tubes opening into the lungs), while pneumonia affects the air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. Moreover, the symptoms, causes, and treatment vary greatly.

Here we will describe a brief overview of both respiratory diseases and then; come to the similarities and differences: 

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is a respiratory disease affecting the upper passageway. It causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes that open into the lungs. Moreover, the inflammation leads to wheezing sound, mucus production, and coughing. 

Types of Bronchitis

Bronchitis is of two types, i.e., Acute Bronchitis and Chronic Bronchitis. 

Acute Bronchitis shows early onset and lasts for a few days to a few weeks. Bacterial or viral infections usually lay behind the cause.

On the other hand, Chronic Bronchitis shows delayed symptoms and is a long-term condition. Smoking or irritants like dust or pollution are the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.


The causative agents of acute bronchitis are the same as that of the flu or common cold. These include coronavirus, adenovirus, etc. Moreover, bacteria also cause inflammation, but the cases are rare. In less than 10% of acute bronchitis cases, bacteria is the causative agent. 

Chronic bronchitis is usually the result of long-term exposure to cigarette smoke, chemical irritants, or pollution. 

What is Pneumonia?

You can symbolize pneumonia as a clog in your lung’s air exchange passage.  

Lungs have tiny air sacs called alveoli. These air sacs offer a medium for gaseous exchange between the lungs and the blood vessels. 

Due to the burden of mucus or fluid, the delicate air sacs cannot expand and contract properly. It significantly reduces the gases exchanged between the lungs and blood vessels. 

Types and Causes

Here, we have fused the types and causes, as the types of pneumonia categorize according to the causative agents:

  • Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia: pneumonia acquired during your stay at a hospital. The causative agent can be antibiotic resistant; therefore, seek early medical assistance. 
  • Community-Acquired Pneumonia: pneumonia acquired in the neighborhood. Fungi, viruses, and bacteria are the most common causes of community-acquired pneumonia.
  • Bacterial Pneumonia: is the most common cause of community pneumonia. You can inhale droplets carrying bacteria, leading to inflammatory conditions. 
  • Walking Pneumonia: a mild condition where you might not even know you have pneumonia. Thus the name ‘walking.’
  • Viral Pneumonia: viruses are the second most common type of causative agent of pneumonia. Viruses are the causative agents of most common colds and flu. 
  • Fungal Pneumonia: these are rare. It usually occurs as a result of an impaired or weakened immune system. 

Bronchitis vs Pneumonia-What are the Differences?

Now, let’s come to the main topic for which you are here. Is there any difference between bronchitis and pneumonia? Are they the different names for similar conditions? Well, this section will clarify the misconception. 

One cannot tell whether it is bronchitis or pneumonia based on congestion or cough symptoms alone. However, the causes, symptoms, and treatment vary greatly.

Let’s gain an idea of differences by looking at different sub-headings:

Location and nature of the infection

Although bronchitis and pneumonia are both respiratory diseases, the main difference is the location and nature of the infection. Bronchitis causes inflammation in the bronchial tubes, while pneumonia affects the lung’s alveoli. Moreover, bronchitis causes narrowing of the airways, which can lead to coughing and wheezing. Pneumonia causes fluid buildup in the lungs’ alveoli, leading to breathing difficulty and low oxygen levels.

Onset and Duration of symptoms

The onset of bronchitis is usually followed by a flu or cold. It starts with a dry cough and may lead to mucus production within days. Acute bronchitis usually persists for two-three weeks. However, the cough can last four weeks or more. 

On the other hand, pneumonia may show its symptoms within two-three days or more. Symptoms like chest pain and fever may diminish early with treatment; however, the cough may last several weeks.

Severity of symptoms

Bronchitis is a less severe form of respiratory illness. Bronchitis can be treated at home with over-the-counter medications and proper rest. 

However, pneumonia represents a more severe form of respiratory illness. Pneumonia may lead to hospitalization in some cases. If the condition is progressive, it may lead to respiratory failure, sepsis, or lung damage. 

Risk Factor

Bronchitis and pneumonia also differ in risk factors. The risk factor for chronic bronchitis is smoking, while irritants like air pollution, certain chemicals, etc., can increase the disease severity. 

Moreover, the risk factors for pneumonia are impaired or weakened immune system, older age, smoking, and recent viral infection. 


Chest X-Rays usually distinguish Bronchitis and pneumonia. The diagnosis requires a physical examination and medical history. Sometimes, the disease is diagnosed via the detection of causative agents with the help of a blood or sputum test. Rarely bronchoscopy is used to image the air passage and collect samples for testing. 

Importance of Knowing the Bronchitis vs Pneumonia Differences

It is necessary to know the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia due to differences in treatment methods. Bronchitis vs pneumonia symptoms are very similar, so accurate detection is required. 

Rest, fluids, and over-the-counter medications can help treat bronchitis. However, pneumonia requires antibiotics and hospitalization. Moreover, pneumonia is a severe respiratory disease compared to bronchitis. So, if pneumonia is identified as bronchitis and treated similarly, it may lead to necrotizing pneumonia and lung damage and prove fatal.

Bronchitis vs Pneumonia Symptoms

Some common bronchitis vs pneumonia symptoms are:

  • Fatigue.
  • Chills and fever.
  • Cough (often with mucus).
  • Shortness of breath.

However, the symptoms that vary are the source of disease detection. Bronchitis is often accompanied by wheezing ad chest discomfort. While pneumonia represents some symptoms not associated with bronchitis:

  • Clammy skin and excessive sweating.
  • Worse symptoms after flu and cold get treated.
  • Energy deprivation.
  • Appetite loss.
  • Confusion.
  • Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea.

Even for the common symptoms, the condition is worse for pneumonia. Breathing problems and fever are more severe when associated with pneumonia than bronchitis. 

Can Bronchitis Turn into Pneumonia?

You might wonder: can Bronchitis turn into Pneumonia? 

The answer to this question depends on certain conditions. Many physicians believe that bronchitis and pneumonia represent different respiratory conditions and are independent. They have separate areas of inflammation as well. Therefore, they do not interlink in any way. 

However, in some cases, bronchitis turns into pneumonia. It depends on the patient’s condition:

  • people having impaired or weak immune systems.
  • smokers.
  • having another lung disease.
  • people with chronic diseases like kidney, heart, or liver disease.
  • elderly people.
  • children of younger age.
  • pregnant women.

The possible explanation for this transition is that due to an infection, the body becomes weak. The body’s defensive ability reduces, leading to further attack by bacteria or viruses. The epithelial layer in the air passage works as a hurdle for microbes. However, due to a viral invasion, it becomes weak, leading to an easy bacterial invasion. 


To conclude, bronchitis and pneumonia both represent respiratory diseases. However, they differ in their target of infection and symptoms. Bronchitis affects the upper respiratory tract, while pneumonia affects the alveoli in the lungs. Bronchitis vs pneumonia symptoms are similar to a great extent and may lead to confusion in diagnosis. If you have a cough, shortness of breath, chills, and fever, seek immediate medical advice. Physicians usually distinguish between both diseases using chest X-rays and distinguishing symptoms like clammy skin with excess sweating, loss of appetite, etc. It is necessary to know the difference between bronchitis vs pneumonia as pneumonia represents a more severe form of respiratory condition. So, if left untreated or with a wrong diagnosis, the disease can proceed to a fatal state. 

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