The Differences Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

Bronchitis and pneumonia are respiratory conditions and have similar symptoms but their causes and treatments are different. Continue reading to find out more about them.
The Differences Between Bronchitis and Pneumonia

Last update: 31 August, 2021

Both bronchitis and pneumonia are respiratory conditions, so they’re rather similar. However, they have different causes and you can neither prevent nor treat them with the same methods.

OK, so, how can you tell them apart then? What are their individual symptoms? Resolving these questions is important to identify whether you have one of these diseases. Continue reading to find out what their main differences are.

The differences between bronchitis and pneumonia


Pneumonia is a respiratory pathology that consists of the infection of lung tissue. It can be due to various pathogens, be it fungi, viruses, or bacteria.

In addition, it’s usually seasonal, as certain weather conditions promote the presence of some microorganisms. Pneumonia is usually more serious than bronchitis.

A person pointing at an X-ray.
Pneumonia is a respiratory disease that compromises lung function. Its symptoms are usually more severe than those produced by bronchitis.


This is the inflammation of lung tissue and it’s usually milder than pneumonia. It’s often due to certain types of viruses or other agents that aggravate the respiratory tract.

The clearest example of a respiratory tract irritant is tobacco, which is why it’s more common in smokers. It’s caused by irritants, not only by pathogenic agents, and could become chronic.

Symptoms in common

As we mentioned above, it’s more common for pneumonia to develop complications even though both conditions manifest with a fairly similar set of symptoms. For instance, there’s shortness of breath and a choking sensation. This is usually known as dyspnea.

Likewise, symptoms include cough with expectoration. That is people afflicted by it expel mucus and phlegm. There may be general discomfort, such as a sore throat and headache, and nasal mucus.

Bronchitis and pneumonia

As we mentioned above, the causative agents are one of the main differences between these diseases. Bronchitis is due to viruses or other agents that irritate the respiratory tract. In turn, pneumonia is an infection of the lung tissue by viruses, fungi, or bacteria.

In addition to the cause, there are also other symptoms such as fever — this is the most characteristic one. Given that pneumonia is an infection, it usually appears with a high fever that lasts a few days. In addition, there’s general discomfort and the muscular pain is much more accentuated than that caused by bronchitis.

It’s also common for pneumonia to cause chills, shivering, and sweating. Meanwhile, bronchitis doesn’t usually cause fever. The duration varies in both but one can overcome pneumonia within two weeks by sticking to the proper treatment.

Also, bronchitis can last different lengths of time, depending on the cause. For instance, it may improve after one or two weeks if it’s due to a virus. However, it can become chronic if tobacco is the cause and the person doesn’t quit.

A woman with a cold.
Pneumonia may manifest with episodes of high fever but this is seldom a symptom of bronchitis.

Prevention and treatment

In the case of bronchitis, treatment will be based on the relief of symptoms with mucolytics, anti-inflammatories, or analgesics. A person will have to avoid exposure to the irritant if it’s due to one of these agents. They’ll have to quit smoking, for example.

In turn, pneumonia may require several types of medication – analgesics and antipyretics mainly – to control some of its symptoms. A bacteria will require antibiotics. The choice between an antibiotic or another type of medication depends on the type of bacteria causing pneumonia.

One must quit smoking as a form of bronchitis prevention. In addition, most medical professionals recommend annual vaccination for influenza and pneumococcus.

Things to be clear about when it comes to bronchitis and pneumonia

Both respiratory conditions manifest with similar symptoms but have different causes and require different treatments. At first, it may be difficult to distinguish between one condition and the other.

Therefore, it’s best to seek medical attention in the event of any warning symptoms. This kind of professional can do the pertinent tests, establish a diagnosis, and prescribe the most appropriate treatment for every case.

It might interest you...
How Contagious Is Bronchitis Exactly?
Step To HealthRead it in Step To Health
How Contagious Is Bronchitis Exactly?

Bronchitis could be contagious. Its main characteristic is the affection of the lower airways. It happens when the bronchial tubes become inflamed.

  • Miravitlles M, Murio C, Guerrero T, Segú JL. Tratamiento de la bronquitis cronica y la EPOC en atencion primaria. Arch Bronconeumol. 1999 Apr 1;35(4):173–8.
  • Blanquer J, Sanz F. Neumonía adquirida en la comunidad. Arch Bronconeumol. 2010;46(SUPPL.7):26–30.
  • Llor C, Cots JM, Herreras A. Etiología bacteriana de la agudización de la bronquitis crónica en atención primaria. Arch Bronconeumol. 2006 Aug 1;42(8):388–93.
  • Evertsen J, Baumgardner DJ, Regnery A, Banerjee I. Diagnosis and management of pneumonia and bronchitis in outpatient primary care practices. Prim Care Respir J. 2010;19(3):237‐241. doi:10.4104/pcrj.2010.00024
  • Holzinger F, Beck S, Dini L, Stöter C, Heintze C. The diagnosis and treatment of acute cough in adults. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 2014;111(20):356‐363. doi:10.3238/arztebl.2014.0356