Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia
It can be difficult to tell the difference between severe bronchitis and the symptoms of pneumonia. Viruses, bacterial infections, and fungi can also cause severe lung infections that lead to pneumonia.
According to an expert in primary care and internal medicine, Dr. Neha Pathak, pneumonia can cause a severe cough that may bring up yellowish or greenish mucus. Usually, the symptoms of pneumonia clear up within 3 weeks. However, for the elderly or very young, pneumonia can cause serious complications.
Pneumonia causes many symptoms similar to bronchitis, however, pneumonia usually makes a person feel very fatigued and causes a high fever as well as a deep chesty cough.
According to doctors from the National Health Service, the germs, viruses, and bacteria that cause pneumonia are often highly contagious. They recommend not sharing cups or eating utensils, washing your hands regularly, and coughing or sneezing into the tissue can help prevent spreading respiratory infections
Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems.
Bronchitis is an inflammation of the lining of your bronchial tubes, which carry air to and from your lungs. People who have bronchitis often cough up thickened mucus, which can be discolored. Bronchitis may be either acute or chronic.
Often developing from a cold or other respiratory infection, acute bronchitis is very common. Chronic bronchitis, a more serious condition, is a constant irritation or inflammation of the lining of the bronchial tubes, often due to smoking.
Acute bronchitis, also called a chest cold, usually improves within a week to 10 days without lasting effects, although the cough may linger for weeks. However, if you have repeated bouts of bronchitis, you may have chronic bronchitis, which requires medical attention. Chronic bronchitis is one of the conditions included in chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
For either acute bronchitis or chronic bronchitis, signs and symptoms may include:
- Production of mucus (sputum), which can be clear, white, yellowish-gray or green in color — rarely, it may be streaked with blood
- Shortness of breath
- Slight fever and chills
- Chest discomfort
If you have acute bronchitis, you might have cold symptoms, such as a mild headache or body aches. While these symptoms usually improve in about a week, you may have a nagging cough that lingers for several weeks.
Chronic bronchitis is defined as a productive cough that lasts at least three months, with recurring bouts occurring for at least two consecutive years.
If you have chronic bronchitis, you’re likely to have periods when your cough or other symptoms worsen. At those times, you may have an acute infection on top of chronic bronchitis.
When to see a doctor.
See your doctor if your cough:
- Lasts more than three weeks
- Prevents you from sleeping
- Is accompanied by fever higher than 100.4 F (38 C)
- Produces discolored mucus
- Produces blood
- Is associated with wheezing or shortness of breath
Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, typically the same viruses that cause colds and flu (influenza). Antibiotics don’t kill viruses, so this type of medication isn’t useful in most cases of bronchitis.
The most common cause of chronic bronchitis is cigarette smoking. Air pollution and dust or toxic gases in the environment or workplace also can contribute to the condition.
Factors that increase your risk of bronchitis include:
- Cigarette smoke. People who smoke or who live with a smoker are at higher risk of both acute bronchitis and chronic bronchitis.
- Low resistance. This may result from another acute illness, such as a cold, or from a chronic condition that compromises your immune system. Older adults, infants, and young children have a greater vulnerability to infection.
- Exposure to irritants on the job. Your risk of developing bronchitis is greater if you work around certain lung irritants, such as grains or textiles, or are exposed to chemical fumes.
- Gastric reflux. Repeated bouts of severe heartburn can irritate your throat and make you more prone to developing bronchitis.
Although a single episode of bronchitis usually doesn’t cause for concern, it can lead to pneumonia in some people. Repeated bouts of bronchitis, however, may mean that you have a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
To reduce your risk of bronchitis, follow these tips:
- Avoid cigarette smoke. Cigarette smoke increases your risk of chronic bronchitis.
- Get vaccinated. Many cases of acute bronchitis result from influenza, a virus. Getting a yearly flu vaccine can help protect you from getting the flu. You may also want to consider vaccination that protects against some types of pneumonia.
- Wash your hands. To reduce your risk of catching a viral infection, wash your hands frequently and get in the habit of using alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
- Wear a surgical mask. If you have COPD, you might consider wearing a face mask at work if you’re exposed to dust or fumes, and when you’re going to be among crowds, such as while traveling.
During the first few days of illness, it can be difficult to distinguish the signs and symptoms of bronchitis from those of a common cold. During the physical exam, your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen closely to your lungs as you breathe.
In some cases, your doctor may suggest the following tests:
- Chest X-ray. A chest X-ray can help determine if you have pneumonia or another condition that may explain your cough. This is especially important if you ever were or currently are a smoker.
- Sputum tests. Sputum is the mucus that you cough up from your lungs. It can be tested to see if you have illnesses that could be helped by antibiotics. Sputum can also be tested for signs of allergies.
- Pulmonary function test. During a pulmonary function test, you blow into a device called a spirometer, which measures how much air your lungs can hold and how quickly you can get the air out of your lungs. This test checks for signs of asthma or emphysema.
Most cases of acute bronchitis get better without treatment, usually within a couple of weeks.
Because most cases of bronchitis are caused by viral infections, antibiotics aren’t effective. However, if your doctor suspects that you have a bacterial infection, he or she may prescribe an antibiotic.
In some circumstances, your doctor may recommend other medications, including:
- Cough medicine. If your cough keeps you from sleeping, you might try cough suppressants at bedtime.
- Other medications. If you have allergies, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), your doctor may recommend an inhaler and other medications to reduce inflammation and open narrowed passages in your lungs.
If you have chronic bronchitis, you may benefit from pulmonary rehabilitation — a breathing exercise program in which a respiratory therapist teaches you how to breathe more easily and increase your ability to exercise.
Lifestyle and home remedies:
To help you feel better, you may want to try the following self-care measures:
- Avoid lung irritants. Don’t smoke. Wear a mask when the air is polluted or if you’re exposed to irritants, such as paint or household cleaners with strong fumes.
- Use a humidifier. Warm, moist air helps relieve coughs and loosens mucus in your airways. But be sure to clean the humidifier according to the manufacturer’s recommendations to avoid the growth of bacteria and fungi in the water container.
- Consider a face mask outside. If cold air aggravates your cough and causes shortness of breath, put on a cold-air face mask before you go outside.
Holy Basil, called Tulsi in India is a very effective herbal cure for bronchitis. This herb contains curative properties that lessen the lung inflammation of patients suffering from bronchitis. Holy Basil can be had in the form of a herbal tea for 3 to 4 times in a day till the coughing and inflammation subside. You can also chew on the leaves of the Holy Basil for overcoming bronchitis.
Thyme is an expectorant and cough suppressant. It is very useful for easing the mucus congestion and coughing characteristic of bronchitis. This herb can be combined with Mulberry Bark and Horsetail in a tincture or syrup and consumed daily to overcome bronchitis.
You can also mix this herb with Peppermint or Hyssop and rub the resulting mixture on the chest for getting relief from bronchitis. The botanical name of this herb is Thymus Vulgaris. This herb is very effective in curing bronchitis because it contains antifungal and antibacterial properties. It is very efficient in eliminating infections and is an ideal cure for respiratory ailments such as bronchitis.
You can also mix Eucalyptus oil in a steaming bowl of water and inhale the vapor emanating from it to cure bronchitis. Eucalyptus is an effective cure for this disease. You need to take the vapor inhalation till the congestion subsides and the cough is gone.
Eucalyptus oil can also be applied to the chest and neck for relief. The oil of this herb contains antibacterial and antiseptic properties which makes it very efficacious in healing infections and respiratory conditions including bronchitis.
The oil derived from a herb called Rosemary can also be used effectively for curing bronchitis. Rosemary oil can be added to olive oil and rubbed onto the chest of the person suffering from bronchitis. This helps to ease the congestion and lessen coughing. Repeated applications of these oils help to combat bronchitis. Rosmarinus Officinalis is the official botanical name of this herb.
It is native to Greece and it has been called Rosemary because Rosmarinus is Latin for the dew of the sea and this herb needs no other water than the moisture from the sea carried as humidity by air. Rosemary is part of many beauty and skincare routines, but it also possesses many healing and soothing properties. Rosemary also contains many antioxidants and it is a well known herbal cure for bronchitis.
Herbs are a great way to deal with ailments naturally and are backed by science.
- Echinacea – This herb has been used for centuries by Native American tribes to treat colds, cases of flu, and similar illnesses. A 2011 study showed that echinacea has potent antiviral properties. All strains of human and avian influenza viruses tested (including a Tamiflu-resistant strain) were very sensitive to a standard echinacea preparation. Other illnesses that echinacea was found to be useful for are herpes simplex virus, respiratory syncytial virus, and rhinoviruses.
- Astragalus – This herb that can boost the immune system. According to Traditional Chinese Medicine, astragalus has a specific action on the lungs. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, astragalus can help prevent upper respiratory infections. Another study shows that astragalus is helpful in reducing inflammation.
- Ginseng – Well known even in mainstream health, ginseng is a potent herbal remedy. Ginseng has anti-inflammatory and antioxidative properties which help boost immune function.
Because our food is so depleted of important nutrients (even the healthy stuff!), supplements can be very helpful to give the body what it needs to function properly and heal.
- Glutathione – Glutathione is the most important molecule for optimal health (as mentioned by Dr. Mark Hyman in this post) and is necessary to help the body fight infection and illness. Try 1 sublingual tablet daily for general immune support.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC) – A study published in the European Respiratory Review shows that this amino acid derivative can be useful for treating chronic bronchitis as this supplement increases glutathione in the body. I use this one.
- Vitamin C – Vitamin C is one of the most common remedies for colds and flu, but vitamin C can also be beneficial in treating bronchitis. Studies show vitamin C to be a useful tool against viral and bacterial infections by preventing, shortening, and alleviating infections (including respiratory). In one study, mega doses of vitamin C (3000 mg daily in 3 doses) relieved and prevented symptoms of cold and flu. This is the best supplement I’ve found.
Essential oils can be incredibly potent natural remedies when used safely. For respiratory illness, steam inhalation or diffusing are the best ways to use essential oils.
- Eucalyptus – A 2009 study published in Respiratory Research shows that eucalyptus oil can reduce airway inflammation and improve lung function.
- Oregano and Thyme – A study published in Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease found that oregano and thyme essential oils have potent antibacterial action. (It is not safe for children or pregnant women, and possibly breastfeeding women as well).
- According to the National Association for Holistic Aromatherapy (NAHA), other essential oils for bronchitis treatment are spike lavender and rosemary (both unsafe for children under 6 years old), and tea tree oil for steam inhalation.
The Bottom Line on Beating Bronchitis:
The best way to avoid illness is to eat a healthy diet, and live a healthy lifestyle every day. But illness is still going to happen occasionally. When bronchitis strikes, natural remedies are the best first line of defense that may also improve overall health.
How Contagious is Bronchitis?
Yes. Most of the time, acute bronchitis is caused by a virus, such as the flu (influenza) virus. However, many different viruses — all of which are very contagious — can cause acute bronchitis.
Viruses spread mainly from person to person by droplets produced when an ill person coughs, sneezes or talks and you inhale the droplets. Viruses may also spread through contact with an infected object. This happens when you touch something with the virus on it and then touch your mouth, eyes or nose.
To reduce your risk of catching viruses that can cause bronchitis:
- Avoid close contact with people who have the flu or another respiratory illness
- Wash your hands often or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth
- Get an annual flu shot
People who have chronic bronchitis or asthma sometimes develop acute bronchitis. In these cases, acute bronchitis is most likely a complication of the existing condition. This type of bronchitis is not caused by an infectious virus, so it’s less likely to be contagious.
How Long is Bronchitis Contagious?
Your infectious bronchitis may be contagious for up to a week. However, it can be difficult to tell exactly how long bronchitis is contagious because it can be symptomatic of hundreds of different viruses.
According to Dr. Charles Patrick Davis on MedicineNet, you are usually contagious for as long as you have a cold or flu symptoms. Usually, as the severity of your symptoms diminishes, your bronchitis will be less contagious. Therefore, to prevent spreading bronchitis, you should assume that your cough is infectious as long as you have symptoms.
Is Bronchitis Contagious After Taking Antibiotics?
In some cases of bacterial bronchitis, doctors prescribe antibiotics to kill off the infection and prevent other pulmonary complications. Therefore, many people ask how long they will be infectious after starting antibiotics for bronchitis.
Doctors from the National Health Service explain that you will no longer be contagious around 24 hours after starting a course of antibiotics. However, the exact time bronchitis infections are infectious varies from person to person.
If you have taken a course of antibiotics, it’s important to take probiotics to help restore “healthy” bacteria to your gut. This can help to prevent gastrointestinal problems after antibiotics and lower your chances of a candida yeast infection.
Should you Self Isolate if you have Bronchitis?
You should self isolate yourself if you suffer from any respiratory disease.
COPD Pneumonia Asthma Bronchitis Acute Bronchitis Influenza/Flu and of course Covid-19
How to practice safe self-isolation:
Self-isolation requires two basic things: staying home and limiting contact with others. But there are some other things you can do while self-isolating to reduce the risk of infection.
Proper hygiene is key and hand washing, according to PHAC, is the best way to protect yourself.
Health Canada recommends you wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds or use alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water aren’t available.
- Don’t share utensils, glasses, etc.
- Cough or sneeze into your elbow or a tissue.
- Avoid touching your face (not easy, but do your best).
- Clean things you touch all the time like TV remotes, doorknobs, electronics, toys, toilets, sinks, etc. with regular household cleaners or diluted bleach (1 part bleach to 9 parts water).
- Wipe down frequently used surfaces and clean the bathroom regularly.
- If you or someone in your home is sick try to keep everything separate – even things like garbage should be kept separate.
- Have supplies delivered to your home, rather than running errands
- Don’t have visitors over
Health Canada also suggests that if you are self-isolating and must leave your home wear a mask and keep a 2-meter distance from others.
You should self isolate yourself if you are suffering from any respiratory disease. Yes I know I mentioned this before. Right now the world is in a crisis mode. A simple cold/flu could lead to severe diseases especially if you are a young child or an elderly. This is a time to practice restraint and respect others even more than before. I just heard the news, (March 30/2020) there will not be a vaccine available for another year.
Please stay safe and healthy.
Thank you for reading,
Comments are welcome.