Walking Pneumonia Versus Bronchitis

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is condition of the lungs where the air sac or alveoli become filled with fluid or pus. The pus in the lungs can be the result of a bacterial or viral infection. The infected person will be afflicted with a cough containing phlegm.

People with weaker immune systems, young children below the age of five and elderly people above the age of sixty five, are most likely to be affected by the infection. If left unchecked it can be fatal.

Pneumonia illustration, human silhouette with lungs, close up of alveoli and inflamed alveoli with fluid inside. Image Credit: Tefi / Shutterstock
Pneumonia illustration, human silhouette with lungs, close up of alveoli and inflamed alveoli with fluid inside. Image Credit: Tefi / Shutterstock

What is Bronchitis?

It is a respiratory condition where the bronchial tubes and trachea are inflamed. These are the airways that carry air to the lungs. These tubes are lined by mucus, which is a slimy substance. This is constantly irritated in bronchitis, inducing a cough from the person. The mucus that comes up with the cough is responsible for spreading the infection. The infection is usually caused by the same viruses that spread the common cold and flu. The three types of bronchitis include acute bronchitis, chronic bronchitis and industrial bronchitis.

Bronchitis. Image Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock
Bronchitis. Image Credit: logika600 / Shutterstock

What's the Difference Between Walking Pneumonia and Bronchitis?

The primary difference between pneumonia and bronchitis is that while the air sacs in the lungs are infected in pneumonia, it is the airways of the lungs that are affected in bronchitis. Both are respiratory disorders which affect the effective functioning of the lungs, which make it difficult for the afflicted person to breathe properly.

Only a qualified medical professional will be able to differentiate between the two  without employing any diagnostic tests. Furthermore, Walking Pneumonia is a milder version of pneumonia and which presents with less severe symptoms.

How is Pneumonia Diagnosed?

A chest x-ray is the most common way to diagnose all types of pneumonia. In some cases, a CT scan of the chest may also be conducted to give clarity to the medical health care provider.

Blood tests may be conducted to diagnose the nature of the infection and information received from this may advise the doctor on the appropriate medication(s) to be prescribed as part of treatment.

Both bacterial and viral infections can cause pneumonia, and the line of treatment ultimately decided upon will depend on this. Most doctors will not prescribe cough syrups as they tend to suppress the phlegm. The phlegm itself may be tested to narrow down the nature of the infection; this is done using an oral swab.

How is Bronchitis Diagnosed?

The most common symptoms of bronchitis are the cough and sore throat, which are usually accompanied by fever. The mucus of the cough may turn yellow or green if a bacterial infection is present, otherwise it stays clear. The health care provider will ask about the medical history of the patient, including if he is a smoker.

Constant exposure to dust, fumes, vapours and air pollution in an industrial setting can also trigger a form of bronchitis. Oxygen levels in the blood may be tested using a sensor on the finger or toe. If symptoms appear to be severe chest x-ray, blood tests and lung functioning tests may also be recommended for appropriate diagnosis.

Treating Pneumonia

Most types of pneumonia can be treated at home. If it is bacterial pneumonia, the doctor will prescribe a course of antibiotics, which should be taken precisely as outlined. Stopping medication before the course ends, simply because you are feeling better, could lead to a relapse of the illness. Symptoms tend to improve within two to three days of starting the medication. In severe cases an intravenous line may be used to administer the antibiotic initially.

For viral pneumonia the antibiotics will do no good. The doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication should the infection be extremely severe. Unfortunately viral pneumonia is a longer lasting illness and t will take the patient between one to three weeks to recover from it. Should the blood oxygen levels drop drastically, oxygen therapy may be required, which is usually done in the hospital.

Treating Bronchitis

Treatment for acute bronchitis will include medication to control the fever, suggestion to increase the intake of fluids and recommended bed rest. Since the respiratory illness is primarily caused by a virus, no antibiotics will be prescribed; however, should a bacterial infection be indicated by the mucus turning green or yellow, an antibiotic may be added. Unless symptoms turn severe the treatment will be home based.

A humidifier should be used in the room that the patient is resting to help loosen the mucus. It will also help with the wheezing and improve the air flow into the lungs. Sometimes an inhaler may be used to allow medicine to enter the lungs directly; these medicines are known as bronchodilators and they help open up the airways within the lungs and clear the mucus. They bring faster relief to the patient.

Reviewed by Afsaneh Khetrapal BSc (Hons)

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Last Updated: Aug 23, 2017

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