Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia: Which Do You Have?

January 5, 2021 4:00 pm Published by

Winter is prime time for seasonal sickness, particularly for bronchitis and pneumonia—two common respiratory infections. Both illnesses cause a nagging cough, fever and chest discomfort, but it’s important to know the difference because they each require a different course of treatment. So how do you tell bronchitis and pneumonia apart?

Bronchitis develops when the cells that line your bronchial tubes (the airways that let air in and out of your lungs) become infected. Viruses, bacteria or an irritant can travel through your nose or mouth to reach your airways. Bronchial tubes swell when infected, which causes you to cough, wheeze or feel shortness of breath.

Bronchitis can either be acute (short-term) or chronic (long-term). Acute bronchitis usually resolves within a few weeks. Chronic bronchitis, however, never completely goes away, often leading to mucus build up and long-term harm to the lungs. Chronic bronchitis is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of diseases that makes it more difficult to breathe with time.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes the air sacs inside the lungs to fill with fluid. This makes it hard to get in enough oxygen. Some cases of pneumonia are mild, while others can lead to complications such as septic shock, kidney failure or respiratory failure.

Read more: Is Telemedicine Right for You?

What Are the Symptoms of Bronchitis?


  • Cough: Either dry or accompanied with mucus. The cough usually goes away in a few weeks.
  • Chest tightness
  • Low-grade fever
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing


  • Chronic cough: Can last three months or longer
  • Chest tightness
  • Wheezing
  • Whistling sound while breathing
  • Shortness of breath

What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

  • Chest pain while breathing or coughing
  • Cough often accompanied with mucus
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever and chills
  • Nausea or vomiting (especially in children)
  • Shallow breathing

Comparing Bronchitis and Pneumonia


  • Both illnesses involve inflammation in the chest.
  • Both illnesses can be caused by a viral infection, such as a cold or the flu.
  • Both cause similar respiratory symptoms, including a cough, shortness of breath and chest discomfort.
  • Because both conditions can be caused by the flu, an annual flu shot can prevent some cases of bronchitis and pneumonia.


  • Bronchitis is sometimes caused by irritation to the lungs from breathing in tobacco smoke, dust, chemicals or toxic fumes. Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, fungi  or a virus.
  • Bronchitis may cause a mild, low-grade fever. Pneumonia can cause a sudden, high fever—up to 105˚ F.
  • Acute bronchitis is often resolved with at-home treatment, such as medication to treat fever, rest and plenty of fluids. Bacteria pneumonia may be treated with antibiotics.

What Next?

Ultimately, your primary care provider (PCP) can provide the most accurate diagnosis between these similar conditions. If you suspect either illness, call and make an appointment with your PCP. Your PCP can recommend treatment before the condition develops into a more serious issue.

Need a more immediate appointment? Magnolia Express Care offers extended hours and weekend visits. Our providers can diagnose and treat bronchitis, or recommend further care for pneumonia.

To find a PCP who can help, call (662) 664-5181. If you are having difficulty breathing and it’s a medical emergency, go to the Magnolia Regional Health Center Emergency Department.


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This post was written by Magnolia Regional Health Center


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