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Differences between Pneumonia and Bronchitis

PORTADAS WEB_pneumonia and bronchitis
Jorge Roig Cutillas
Pneumological consultations, respiratory function tests
02 Feb 2024
3 Min
Health tips

When winter begins, it brings along all respiratory system diseases typical of the season. Among them are pneumonia and bronchitis. For the patient, it is not always easy to differentiate them, as the severity and the presence of any underlying disease can result in similar symptoms.

We’ll explain what they are, how they differ, their causes, symptoms, diagnoses, treatments, and how to prevent them.

Definition and causes

Pneumonia is an infectious disease that affects a part of the lung or sometimes both. It is caused by an infection from microorganisms, generally bacteria, and less frequently viruses. More rarely, in individuals with compromised immunity, it can also be caused by fungi or parasites attacking the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lung tissue where oxygen is taken in and carbon dioxide is eliminated), leading them to fill with inflammatory fluid produced by the immune system’s response to the infection.

Bronchitis is an inflammation of the bronchi (air passages within the lungs that carry the air we inhale and exhale when breathing), filling the lungs with mucus. It can be caused by viruses, bacteria, and irritants (such as tobacco smoke and allergens).


The symptoms of both conditions can help the patient distinguish between them.

Pneumonia may cause:

  • Generally high fever, but not always. In elderly individuals or those with suppressed immunity, it may present with mild fever.
  • Intense cough that can typically produce mucus, although sometimes it can be dry.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain when breathing or coughing. When the pleura, the membrane that surrounds the lung, is affected, it can produce pain on one side when inhaling or coughing.
  • Chills and sweats.


In contrast, bronchitis causes:

  • Generally persistent cough, although not always, with mucus production.
  • Fatigue.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Chest pain due to coughing.

In other words, they can be distinguished because bronchitis usually does not cause high fever, except in some viral causes like the flu virus or RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), and it is characterized by persistent cough.


For the diagnosis of both diseases, it is necessary to consult a doctor for an interview to understand the symptoms and a physical examination that includes listening with a stethoscope.

In both cases, the diagnosis may also include a chest X-ray and pulse oximetry (to measure oxygen in the blood). In some cases, a microbiological examination of sputum, an Antigen detection test, or a PCR of nasopharyngeal secretion or a blood or urine test may be performed to try to determine the responsible microorganism.


The treatment of pneumonia depends on the cause and type, the intensity of symptoms, the age, and the health status of the patient. A crucial factor in the prognosis is the prompt initiation of appropriate treatment.

Bacterial pneumonia should be treated with antibiotics. Pneumonia caused by viruses may improve with rest and fluid intake. In this case, it is usually not treated with antibiotics, except in the case of an associated bacterial superinfection, but medications for cough and pain may be prescribed. Finally, pneumonia caused by fungi or parasites should be treated with antifungal or antiparasitic medications.

Cases of bronchitis generally improve within a couple of weeks without treatment. Most are caused by viral infections (with a low incidence of bacterial causes), and therefore, they are generally not treated with antibiotics. However, some cases of bronchitis are caused by intracellular microorganisms (Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Chlamydia spp, etc.) with characteristics between bacteria and fungi, requiring specific types of antibiotics. Cough medications may be recommended, and if the patient has allergies, asthma, or COPD, inhalers or similar medications may be prescribed.

Additionally, it is recommended to rest, drink plenty of fluids to maintain hydration or thin the mucus inside the lungs, avoid lung irritants, and use a humidifier or bathe with warm water to help alleviate cough and loosen mucus in the respiratory passages.


Preventive measures for both respiratory diseases include frequent handwashing, avoiding lung irritants (quitting smoking or using a mask when the air is contaminated or when exposed to chemicals), reducing alcohol consumption (as it is associated with more severe pneumonia), maintaining a healthy diet, and practicing good oral hygiene.

Furthermore, the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines are essential, especially for people at higher risk of complications and for healthy individuals in close contact with high-risk individuals.

If you experience symptoms of pneumonia or bronchitis, the Pulmonology specialists at Creu Blanca will evaluate your case and symptoms. After reaching a diagnosis, they will prescribe a personalized treatment for you. Schedule an appointment today.


Respiratory System