While bronchitis and pneumonia can present similar symptoms because they both cause inflammation, these two respiratory issues are different in a number of ways. When it comes to bronchitis vs. pneumonia, bronchitis causes the inflammation located in the bronchial tubes while with pneumonia, the inflammation is in the lungs. Keep reading to learn the other differences between these two conditions.

What Are the Differences Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia?



When you have bronchitis, you can exhibit a number of symptoms, some are similar to those of the common cold like body aches or headaches. Addition symptoms can include:

  • Cough.

  • Yellow, green, white or clear mucus.

  • Fatigue.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Chills.

  • Fever.

  • Discomfort of the chest.

Symptoms of pneumonia can also be similar to the common cold and flu. While symptoms can range from mild to severe, they typically consist of:

  • Pain while breathing in the chest area.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • If you are over the age of 65, confusion or mental functioning can occur.

  • Mucus when coughing.

  • Fatigue.

  • Excessive shaking with chills and fever.

  • Drop in body temperature if you are over the age of 65.

  • Vomiting.

  • Nausea.

  • Digestive issues.

Infants or newborns may show no signs of having pneumonia or can sometimes have a fever, cough restlessness, difficulty breathing, decrease in appetite or vomiting.



Bronchitis is often brought on by a virus infection much like the flu or cold. Cigarette smoke, dust, air pollution or toxic gases can all contribute to bronchitis.

Pneumonia is caused by germs and is often classified by the type of germs it develops from or where the germs were acquired. These germs can be either bacterial or viral that are breathed in and infect the lungs. When it comes to bronchitis vs. pneumonia, pneumonia has a number of different classifications as opposed to the acute or chronic classification of bronchitis. Some of the pneumonia classifications include:

  • Community acquired pneumonia is caught outside of a health care facility and is the most common type of pneumonia. Community acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, bacteria-like organisms, fungi, or viruses.

  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia develops while in the hospital. This type of pneumonia can be more serious because often the bacteria it grows from is more resistant to antibiotics taken to treat other illness during your hospital stay. Patients who are on ventilators or other breathing machines are at a higher risk of developing this type of pneumonia.

  • Individuals who are living in long-term care facilities or need to frequent outpatient clinics are at risk of developing health care-acquired pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is also more resistant to antibiotics and is caused by bacteria.

  • Aspiration pneumonia is typically developed when there is a disturbance to your gag reflex, causing you to breathe in vomit, saliva, food or drinks in the lungs. This can occur when there is a brain injury or drug and alcohol use.


Risk Factors and Complications

Some things that can increase your chances of suffering from bronchitis include:

  • Smoking or residing with someone who smokes.

  • Having a lower resistance to bronchitis which can include those who are older or, young children and infants. Also, already having a cold or other chronic condition can increase your chances of developing bronchitis.

  • If you work in an environment where there are lung irritants presents or have exposure to chemical fumes.

  • If you suffer from frequent heartburn, you are more likely to develop bronchitis.

While having bronchitis is not typically a cause to be alarmed, some complications that can result from bronchitis include an increased risk of developing pneumonia. If you frequently suffer from bronchitis, this can indicate chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

The difference between bronchitis vs pneumonia when it comes to who is at risk can vary greatly. Anyone can develop pneumonia tend to be smokers or have regular exposure to breathing irritants. There are individuals who are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia which include:

  • Infants 2 years or younger.

  • Adults over 65.

  • Those in the hospital, especial if on a ventilator or in the intensive care unit.

  • Individuals who have asthma, COPD, heart disease or other chronic diseases.

  • Individuals who have weaker immune systems.

  • Individuals who have or are going through chemotherapy.

  • Those who have used steroids for a prolonged period of time.

  • Individuals who have had an organ transplant.

While pneumonia can be treated, there can be additional complications that can occur, such as:

  • Organ failure caused by the bloodstream being infected with bacteria.

  • Trouble breathing.

  • Fluid in or around the lungs.

  • Abscess developing in the lungs.



When you first develop bronchitis, it can be challenging to determine if the symptoms you are having are in fact bronchitis. Upon visiting the doctors, they will perform a physical exam and listen closely to your breathing, but additional tests are typically needed to make an accurate diagnosis. These test can include:

  • An x-ray of the chest to rule out pneumonia or other conditions, especially if you are or were a smoker, may be performed.

  • The mucus coughed up from the lungs can also be tested through a sputum test. This can also determine if you may have any allergies that could be causing your symptoms.

  • A spirometer will be used for a pulmonary function test to test the amount of air your lungs can hold. This is a simple test where you blow into a spirometer and can also determine whether you have asthma or have developed emphysema.

When comparing bronchitis vs. pneumonia, diagnosis can involve similar test, but for different reasons. To determine if you have pneumonia, your doctor will again listen to the lungs using a stethoscope, but this is done to hear crackling or bubbling noises in the lungs. Additional tests can also include:

  • An x-ray of the chest will be done to location and determine the severity of the infections.

  • Blood tests are done to determine the type of germ causing the infection.

  • Oxygen levels will be measured by performing a pulse oximetry.

  • Fluid from the lungs will be tested through a sputum test.

  • If you are over 65, you may also need a CT scan and pleural fluid culture.



Bronchitis tends to clear up on its own without other treatment but chronic or more severe cases of bronchitis may be treated with certain medication or therapy.

Treating pneumonia can be more difficult because it depends on the severity and type of infection. Often pneumonia is treated with antibiotics, cough medicines, and pain or fever reducers. Severe cases of pneumonia may involve hospitalization.



Bronchopneumonia can also occur when bronchitis and pneumonia are present at the same time. When this occurs, the bronchitis tubes, as well as the alveoli sac are inflamed, which can be caused from either a bacterial or viral infection. In order to determine the best treatment, you need to obtain the correct diagnosis.

Can Bronchitis Lead to Pneumonia?

While there are many differences when comparing bronchitis vs. pneumonia, you should know some cases of bronchitis can develop into pneumonia, especially when the bronchitis is not treated properly or ignored for too long. This is because the immune system is already weakened by the bronchitis infection, putting you at higher risk of pneumonia. Knowing the symptoms of bronchitis and pneumonia can help you avoid more serious conditions.


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