Cough, fatigue… Bronchitis and pneumonia have similarities in their symptoms, but also differences. How to distinguish them? How do we know what we have?
Both pneumonia and bronchitis affect the airways. The pneumonia is an infection of the lung caused by bacteria – most often pneumococcus – or by a virus. The bronchitis is due to a viral infection (most often) or bronchial bacteria. But difficult to tell the difference between bronchitis and pneumoniaso much the symptoms are similar. So how do you know if you have pneumonia or bronchitis? Insight from Dr Cécilia Nocent-Ejnaini, Pneumologist-Allergologist at the Basque Coast Hospital Center in Bayonne, member of the College of Pneumologists of General Hospitals.
“Difficult for the general public to really tell the difference between pneumonia and bronchitisimmediately warns our interlocutor. The fever is for example lower during bronchitis than for pneumonia. Likewise, pain is less frequent. The fatigue is also less important in the case of bronchitis, but it remains a difficult parameter to assess. What can be said is that the two affections suddenly appear. Furthermore, pneumonia is more serious than bronchitis, because it can lead to severe complications and require hospitalization, especially in people at risk (children, the elderly, immunocompromised)“. The diagnosis of pneumonia is confirmed by a chest x-ray which shows the presence of an infectious focus.
|Fever||High (39-40°C)||The manifestation of fever varies according to the virus but it generally does not exceed 38.5-39°C|
|Cough||Usually dry at first then with yellowish or greenish sputum||Quirky, hoarse. Sometimes the cough becomes oily and is accompanied by yellowish or greenish sputum.|
|chest pain||Frequent, but not systematic||Less frequent|
|Respiratory discomfort / Shortness of breath||Frequent||Frequent|
|Fatigue||Important||Slightly less important (difficult to assess)|
The most common germ of pneumonia is pneumococcus. Bronchitis is most often of viral origin. Many types of virus are responsible for acute bronchitis: influenza and para-influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, rhinovirus… In less than 10% of cases, bronchitis has a bacterial cause.
pneumonia can be transmitted in different ways. Viruses and bacteria commonly found in the nasal passages or pharynx of children can infect the lungs if inhaled. They are also transmitted through the air, through droplets emitted during coughing or sneezing. Bronchitis viruses are transmitted through nasal and bronchial secretions.
“Anyone can get pneumonia, even without risk factors. And it’s abnormal when an individual has several pneumonias. People who have underlying lung disease have a higher risk of getting pneumonia“, indicates the pulmonologist. Same thing for bronchitis, everyone can have one. People who haveasthma or a COPD or who smoke are more likely to have bronchitis“.
“Yes, it still can, but nevertheless, complications like pneumonia are rare“, says our expert.
► The pneumonia treatment relies on taking antibiotics (amoxicillin or cephalosporin) for one week. The fever disappears after 24 to 48 hours and the disease progresses to recovery in a few days. Abnormalities visible on radiography may persist but this has no particular consequences on the course of the disease.
► The bronchitis symptoms can disappear spontaneously, in 10 to 15 days. The treatment of acute bronchitis is based solely on the relief of symptoms (medicines against infection and excess bronchial secretions, taken by mouth). Antibiotics are only indicated and prescribed by a doctor in the event of superinfection and in fragile people.
Thank you to Dr Cécilia Nocent-Ejnaini, Pneumologist-Allergologist at the Basque Coast Hospital Center in Bayonne, member of the College of Pneumologists of General Hospitals.
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