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Bronchitis vs Pneumonia

Dr. Lane Phillips

There is much patient confusion over the difference between bronchitis and pneumonia. This article will help determine what follow-up is necessary if you develop a persistent cough.

Bronchitis begins when a viral infection invades the lungs. The virus then invades the bronchial tubes and causes inflammation, which in turn causes bronchospasm, a constriction of your lungs. This will result in either shortness of breath or a persistent cough. Occasionally, this may develop after a recent upper respiratory tract infection seems to be clearing.

A common misconception about bronchitis is that it requires antibiotics to resolve the infection. However, bronchitis is caused by viruses and viral infections are one that the body needs to cure by itself. The overuse of antibiotics in viral infections has led to increased antibiotic resistance. They are only recommended in certain cases of bronchitis and pneumonia. That said, there are treatments for bronchitis that will help alleviate your symptoms almost immediately. These include expectorants, cough medicines, inhalers, and sometimes prednisone. Therefore the question may arise in regard to when to make an appointment with your physician. The answer is that when a cough is not resolving, or is associated with unexplained shortness of breath, in any patient, at any age, this should be evaluated by a physician. This is particularly true if the patient has a history of asthma, lung disease, pneumonia, bronchitis with frequent exacerbations, or is a tobacco user.

The most important clues for pneumonia as the diagnosis over bronchitis are if you have shortness of breath associated with fever, chills, and night sweats. Pneumonia is not simple bronchospasm, but rather fluid accumulation in the lungs that often requires antibiotics. The differentiation between these two processes has to do with the patients clinical symptoms and your physician listening to your lung sounds with a stethoscope. In addition, pulse oximetry and chest x-rays may be helpful. The delineation between bronchitis and pneumonia is very important, because it involves the severity of the lung problem and it dictates the treatment that will be prescribed by your physician. Please don’t hesitate to consult with your doctor if there are any of these symptoms.