Carefree M.D. Blog

Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

Carefree MD

April 14, 2021 | Blog

The difference between bronchitis and pneumonia isn’t easy to tell. Since they’re both upper respiratory infections, it’s easy to confuse the two. But with the help of this guide, you can easily identify the symptoms of both diseases. Learn more about their causes and treatments.

Similarities Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

Before we dive into the details of differences between bronchitis and pneumonia, let’s discuss their similarities. It’s very common to confuse the two because they have very similar symptoms. 

Common Bronchitis and Pneumonia Symptoms

The most common symptoms for both illnesses are the same:

  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath
  • Slight fever and chills
  • Chest pain or discomfort

If you’re experiencing these symptoms alone, it’s really hard to tell the difference between pneumonia and bronchitis.

Viral and Bacterial Causes

While the exact causes of bronchitis and pneumonia are completely different, there is one similarity. Both bronchitis and pneumonia have viral and bacterial causes

Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia Symptoms

The best way to tell the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia is to look at the symptoms you have that aren’t shared between the two illnesses. 

For example, the severity of your chest discomfort is different. Simple discomfort is more common for bronchitis. Chest pain, on the other hand, can be a sign of pneumonia.

With bronchitis, you also produce mucus from your nose. This can be various colors: clear, white, yellowish-gray, or green. In rare instances, it’s even streaked with blood.

Meanwhile, pneumonia has a lot more symptoms. If you experience any of these in addition to the common symptoms, you’re more likely to have pneumonia:

  • Production of phlegm with your cough
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)
  • Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older)


Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia Causes

The most common cause of bronchitis is a viral infection. But in less than 10% of the cases, it can also be bacterial. In both cases, germs enter your bronchial tubes in your lungs. And they cause irritation or infection there.

You can get chronic bronchitis if you’re frequently in contact with irritants. Cigarette smoke, dust, pollen, and polluted air are common causes of chronic bronchitis. 

Alternatively, pneumonia is more complex. The cause can be viral, bacterial, and even fungal. When you inhale these irritants, they enter your alveoli (small air-filled sacs in your lungs).

Depending on the underlying cause, there are four different types of pneumonia you can catch:

  • Viral pneumonia: caused by a virus, such as the influenza virus.
  • Bacterial pneumonia: the most common culprit of this type of pneumonia is a bacteria called Streptococcus pneumonia.
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia: mycoplasma is an organism that’s similar to both viruses and bacteria.
  • Fungal pneumonia: the fungi called Pneumocystis jiroveci can also cause pneumonia.

The Key Difference Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

Although there are a few differences in symptoms, the place of the inflammation is the biggest difference:
You develop bronchitis when germs make their way into your bronchial tubes. Meanwhile, you get pneumonia if the germs enter your alveoli.

Treatment Options for Bronchitis and Pneumonia

The treatment for both illnesses depends on whether it’s a viral or bacterial infection. Antibiotics are the most common medications you can get if your bronchitis or pneumonia is bacterial. Meanwhile, viral infections are treated with antiviral drugs.

The doctor may prescribe a breathing treatment or steroids to treat chronic bronchitis. This will help reduce the inflammation and mucus from your lungs.

If your pneumonia and bronchitis symptoms are severe, you may also get supplemental oxygen to help you breathe.

What to Do If You Have Bronchitis and Pneumonia

If you develop the upper respiratory symptoms of these illnesses, don’t worry. In most cases, your body will fight off the infection on its own. But, you can definitely do something to help that process.

Getting plenty of rest is crucial if you have bronchitis or pneumonia. Drinking plenty of fluids is helpful to keep you hydrated and to loosen up mucus in your lungs. Choose water, tea, or broths over soda.

If you have a fever, headache, or body aches, feel free to take over-the-counter medications. Painkillers and anti-inflammatory medications can treat these mild symptoms well. Humidifiers are great to help loosen the mucus in your lungs. Inhale the steam to recover faster.
Make sure you monitor your symptoms. If your fever climbs up or you develop new symptoms, it may be time to turn to a doctor.

When to See a Doctor With Bronchitis or Pneumonia

Upper respiratory symptoms are common, but they should be taken seriously. If you suspect that you have either bronchitis or pneumonia, it’s worth talking to a doctor before you develop severe symptoms. Doctors can prescribe the antibiotics or antiviral drugs you need to get better quickly.

If your upper respiratory symptoms don’t disappear on their own within two weeks, you need to speak to a doctor as soon as possible. Seek immediate medical attention if your symptoms get worse. Here are a few examples that are a clear sign that you need to see a doctor:

  • Blood in your phlegm
  • Fever over 100.4°F that lasts for more than a week
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Extreme weakness

Talk to a Doctor About Bronchitis and Pneumonia

It’s hard to tell the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia. They’re a lot different, and you need different treatments to get better. That’s why it’s best to avoid guessing and letting a doctor determine which illness you have.

Best of all, you don’t even need to drag yourself to the doctor. Instead, you can get the treatment you deserve right from the comfort of your home with Carefree MD.

Carefree MD gives you complete access to a state-licensed and board-certified physician. All you need is an internet connection and a mobile or desktop device. And once you sign up, you’ll get unlimited appointments where you can discuss your concerns with a doctor.

Need to talk to a doctor about your bronchitis or pneumonia symptoms? Sign up for Carefree MD to discuss your symptoms, get treatment, and find relief with telemedicine today! 


The Carefree MD blog is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. The text and pictures within the content are intended for information purposes only. Readers should consult with a licensed doctor or healthcare professional before seeking treatment.

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