Based on an article titled “Bronchitis and Pneumonia”
Originally written by: Nowicki and Murray, 2020
By: Murielle Nsiela
This article will differentiate between different types of bronchitis and its symptoms and discuss possible diagnostic limitations. It will also answer the question of whether bronchitis can eventually turn into pneumonia, so read along to find out!
Bronchitis is an infection of the main airway passage called the bronchi; this infection causes the airways to become irritated and inflamed. A viral illness, such as a cold or flu, commonly causes bronchitis. Furthermore, it can also be triggered by inhaling irritating substances such as household chemicals, smog or tobacco smoke.1
The walls of the bronchi produce mucus to trap dust and particles that could potentially cause harm or irritation to the airways. In bronchitis, as the infection causes inflammation in the bronchi, excess mucus is produced in the airways; the body eliminates this excess mucus by coughing. Bronchitis can be acute, a temporary inflammation of the airways that lasts up to three weeks resulting in mucus and cough. It can affect individuals of all ages; however, it is most frequent in children below the age of five.1
Acute bronchitis appears to be more common in colder seasons and can come about after a cold, flu or sore throat. On the other hand, chronic bronchitis is a daily cough that lasts for three months of the year and occurs at least two years in a row. It affects individuals aged 40 years and above. It is one of the many lung conditions known as a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). It is suggested that individuals should stop smoking if they have bronchitis. Cigarette chemicals and cigarette smoke enhance bronchitis symptoms and could potentially increase the likelihood of developing chronic bronchitis.1
Pneumonia is inflammation of the lung tissue due to a viral, bacterial or fungal infection; it can occur in one or both lungs.2 It results in the inflammation of the alveoli. As a result, the alveoli become filled with pus or fluid, leading to cough that produces phlegm. In addition to phlegm, it also leads to chills, fever and difficulty breathing. Although pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening, it can present in anyone, including healthy individuals.
However, it is most severe in infants, individuals with weakened immunity, individuals with health issues and people aged 65 and above. Pneumonia can be acquired in different settings. For instance, one can contract pneumonia in a hospital setting, known as hospital-acquired pneumonia. One can also contract pneumonia in a healthcare setting (such as kidney dialysis centres), and finally, it can also be acquired by aspiration of food, vomit or saliva into the lungs .3
As bronchitis and pneumonia affect the same organ, the lungs, both conditions have overlapping symptoms, which can make the diagnosis of each condition confusing.4 However, they can be distinguished by several diagnostic methods, such as chest x-rays and testing phlegm. In diagnosing acute bronchitis, causes of other acute coughs are eliminated, such as asthma, pneumonia or the common cold.2
Furthermore, one research suggested that a viral infection mainly causes bronchitis; therefore, antibiotics would not be an effective treatment method.4 However, in pneumonia, the situation is usually the opposite, and antibiotics are, to some extent, effective.4 Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics unless a secondary bacterial infection develops. On the other hand, pneumonia is diagnosed with a physical examination, a chest x-ray and a urine test in some cases.2
Furthermore, it has been suggested that chronic bronchitis can turn into pneumonia if the bronchitis infection is left untreated. The infection tends to spread deeper into the lungs past the bronchi and into the alveoli, causing pneumonia. Individuals with chronic bronchitis have impaired lung function, meaning that the body has to work harder to fight off infections, which increases the chances of an individual obtaining pneumonia.5
In summary, bronchitis and pneumonia have similar symptoms. Therefore, what could seem like a cold that does not resolve in a few weeks could potentially be acute bronchitis or, in the worst-case scenario, chronic bronchitis. In addition, untreated bronchitis can turn into pneumonia, which is life-threatening. There are several diagnostic and treatment methods available. However, the treatment provided can only be effective if the patient has been correctly diagnosed, depending on whether a virus or bacteria causes acute or chronic bronchitis and whether it is pneumonia caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus. Therefore, healthcare providers need to conduct an appropriate diagnostic evaluation to provide the suitable care for their patients with bronchitis and pneumonia.
- Bronchitis [Internet]. nhs.uk. 2019 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/bronchitis/
- Nowicki J, Murray M. Bronchitis and Pneumonia. Textbook of Natural Medicine. 2020;(e1):1196–1201.
- Pneumonia - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2022 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204
- Stokes K, Castaldo R, Franzese M, Salvatore M, Fico G, Pokvic L et al. A machine learning model for supporting symptom-based referral and diagnosis of bronchitis and pneumonia in limited-resource settings. Biocybernetics and Biomedical Engineering. 2021;41(4):1288-1302.
- Bronchitis symptoms and treatments [Internet]. Nhsinform.scot. 2022 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.nhsinform.scot/illnesses-and-conditions/lungs-and-airways/bronchitis
- The Bronchi Are Involved in Numerous Functions of the Lungs [Internet]. Verywell Health. 2022 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-the-bronchus-structure-function-and-conditions-2249066
- COPD - Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Mayo Clinic. 2022 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/copd/symptoms-causes/syc-20353679
- What Are the Alveoli and How Do They Work? [Internet]. Verywell Health. 2022 [cited 15 April 2022]. Available from: https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-are-alveoli-2249043