Coughing, wheezing, and fatigue, they’re all common symptoms this time of year—but doctors say the underlining cause will determine the treatment. “Bronchitis and pneumonia can very often be confused, not just what it is, but also the symptoms and treatment plans,” said Dr. Jordan Taillon, a pulmonologist with Lee Health.
Both can cause fever, chills, coughing, and shortness of breath. “They can present a little similar and be hard to delineate. Pneumonia will usually be more severe. A lot of times both can be treated as an outpatient if you have healthy lungs,” said Dr. Taillon.
Bronchitis is a viral infection that often accompanies the common cold, whereas pneumonia is a bacterial infection that causes fluid to escape into the lungs. Typically, bronchitis can resolve on its own within a week or two--But patients with pneumonia will likely need an antibiotic.
“Usually, with bronchitis, you do not need antibiotics. It’s a viral illness, and it will resolve on its own, and giving it antibiotics can be a bad thing because you’re exposing different bugs to the antibiotics and that’s how you get resistances,” Dr. Taillon said.
However, if pneumonia is left untreated, it can become very severe, even life-threatening for children and the elderly. “A lot of people will get pneumonia with bronchitis, especially if their immune system is already kind of compromised,” he said.
If a patient has symptoms, it’s important they visit their doctor to be diagnosed. Patients with asthma or COPD may need more aggressive treatment to prevent the diagnosis from getting worse.