Pneumonia and bronchitis are common respiratory ailments in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1.1 million Americans are hospitalized each year with pneumonia. The average patient stays in the hospital for 5.2 days. Even more worrying, however, is the fact that 3.4% of the people hospitalized for pneumonia will actually die while in the hospital.
Although death and complications are more common in the elderly and in people with a suppressed immune system, even healthy adults might be at risk if they don’t seek treatment.
Symptoms of Pneumonia and Bronchitis
Pneumonia is sometimes difficult to identify because it can present itself in two forms: viral or bacterial. Each of these types has a slightly different set of symptoms, which can lead people to think they could have just a cold or a case of the flu.
Common viral pneumonia symptoms include chills and muscle aches, enlarged lymph nodes in the neck and a sore throat. Viral pneumonia usually only causes a very low fever. When coughing is present, it’s often dry or produces only a small amount of mucus.
Bacterial pneumonia, on the other hand, usually leads to a very high fever and the coughing of thick greenish mucus. It can also cause shortness of breath and severe fatigue. People with both forms of pneumonia often have chest pain.
Acute bronchitis symptoms often seem like a mix of viral and bacterial pneumonia; that is because it is caused by viruses associated with colds and the flu. Bronchitis can also be caused by exposure to airborne irritants such as air pollution, dust, smoke and fumes.
A bronchial infection begins in the sinuses or throat and travels to the bronchial tubes. As the body tries to ward off the infection, the bronchial tubes swell and cause coughing, the most common sign of bronchitis.
A persistent bronchial cough starts dry and eventually starts producing yellow or green mucus. Inflammation in the lungs can cause wheezing, hoarseness, shortness of breath and a tight feeling in the chest. This is one of the best ways to differentiate between bronchitis and pneumonia.
Other bronchitis symptoms include mild fever, fatigue, runny nose (postnasal drip), headaches, difficulty sleeping and sore throat.
A series of chest X-rays is usually the first step in determining the presence of pneumonia and bronchitis. Your provider might also order a sputum test, which analyzes lung fluid to help determine the type of infection. Viral and bacterial infections require different medications, so this is an essential step before treatment can start. Other tests for bronchitis include lung function tests, in which your provider listens for wheezing or whistling when you breathe.
If your provider suspects pneumonia, he can also choose to perform a pulse oximetry test. This measures how much oxygen your blood is carrying and whether pneumonia can be affecting those levels.
There is a pneumonia vaccination, along with other types of vaccinations, that can help prevent an infection from viruses and bacteria that contribute to pneumonia and bronchitis. These vaccinations include:
- Influenza (flu)
- Varicella (chickenpox)
- Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
- Pertussis (whooping cough)
Along with these, bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. Which type depends on what bacteria you are fighting and how severe the infection is. Sometimes it is necessary to switch antibiotics throughout the course of treatment, especially if you don’t experience any relief or if the symptoms get worse.
Viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotics. To treat it, your provider might recommend a number of drugs commonly used to treat influenza. However, these only offer relief for symptoms while your body fights the virus on its own. People with viral pneumonia sometimes have underlying bacterial infections, so they might need to take antibiotics for that as well.
Because bronchitis usually develops from a viral infection, antibiotics may not be helpful as a treatment for the ailment. However, if your provider suspects a bacterial infection, antibiotics will help treat bronchitis symptoms. In most cases, your provider will prescribe plenty of fluids, rest and sometimes an over-the-counter medication, such as acetaminophen, to help control the fever. Cough-suppressing medications can help you breathe easier and relieve inflammation in your throat and lungs.
Inhalers, vaporizers and humidifiers may also help alleviate bronchial issues. These can help warm and moisten the air, which can reduce coughing and make breathing easier. Finally, if you smoke, quitting would greatly decrease future bronchial problems.
It is important to note that, though it is not guaranteed to do so, bronchitis not treated by a provider can worsen and develop into pneumonia. Because bronchitis is highly contagious, and because the immune system is weakened in this state, bacteria can multiply without the proper assistance from the body’s natural defenses, causing much more damage to the respiratory system.
Left untreated, pneumonia can lead to serious complications as well, especially in children and the elderly, as well as those with a compromised immune system or previous health problems such as walking pneumonia. A common complication is pleurisy, an inflammation of the lining between the ribs and lungs. Pleurisy can cause fluid accumulation and lead to bacteria buildup and infection.
Because both bronchitis and pneumonia can be serious, it’s important that you talk to a provider if you suspect a problem. Our providers at the urgent care Rockville, MD, office can run diagnostic tests for pneumonia and bronchitis, and then prescribe the correct treatment. Contact us today.