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Bronchitis & Pneumonia

Bronchitis and Pneumonia

The same infectious (viral or bacterial) organisms usually cause bronchitis or pneumonia, and the severity of the illness often relates to the overall health of the patient.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia differs from bronchitis in that it is an invasive infection of the lower respiratory system. The infection has broken through the wall of the bronchi and entered into the tissues of the lung. The infected lung tissue has blood vessels that may transport the infectious bacteria to other parts of the body, causing bodily symptoms (see below) and potentially, a more serious disease process.

For nonsmokers:

In both pneumonia and bronchitis, lung inflammatory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, and sputum (lung mucus) production are present. Moreover, fever, sweating, and chills may be common with either bacterial or viral infections. Because there is much overlap, it is impossible to distinguish a severe case of viral bronchitis from pneumonia without a physical exam or a chest X-ray.

For the purposes of this publication, however, there are some indicators that pneumonia is present and that you should seek medical attention:

  • chest pain or back pain with respiration or cough (a sign of tissue invasion)
  • large amounts of greenish or brownish sputum
  • a heart rate greater than 100 beats per minute
  • severe and persistent symptoms that may include: fever, chills, fatigue, perspiration, cough, and shortness of breath

If you have these symptoms, always seek medical attention. Finally, the elderly and those with more severe, chronic health problems should always consult a physician, for many of these guidelines, for several reasons, may not apply.

For Smokers:

Years of smoking alters the lungs normal ability to clear bacterial and viral infections. Furthermore, chronic scarring and an impaired lung immune system make it much easier for bacteria to thrive in a smoker’s lungs. Thus, we recommend that all smokers with a history of chronic bronchitis seek medical attention if they develop an acute flare in their respiratory symptoms. See below for more information on chronic bronchitis and emphysema.

Bronchitis

Doctors use the term, “bronchitis” to describe a superficial inflammation of the lower respiratory system, i.e. the lung airways (bronchi). In nonsmokers, bronchitis is usually caused by a virus that has first infected the nasal passages and upper airways, and then progressed into the chest.

Bronchitis is considered acute and is more easily managed when it occurs in people without a long history of smoking. Long-term smokers with chronic bronchitis or emphysema who develop a flare in symptoms are considered and treated differently than nonsmokers. The very elderly and those with chronic illnesses such as diabetes or heart disease are also approached with extra caution.

Treatment

Acute bronchitis in nonsmokers and healthy people is best managed symptomatically. In any inflammatory process with fever, the body consumes a great deal of water; making fluid replacement essential. Tylenol, aspirin, or Ibuprofen are effective in controlling fever. You can best achieve cough suppression with dextromethorphan, and reduce sputum production and the relief of chest congestion with guiafenissen.

If you have a history of asthma, reactive airway disease, or a sensation of shortness of breath, you may be assisted with bronchodilator inhalers such as Albuterol or Proventil. If you are otherwise healthy and your symptoms of bronchitis do not improve with conservative measures, a short course of antibiotics may help. Common antibiotics used in these cases are: Erythromycin, ampicillin/clavulanic acid (Augmentin), azithromycin (Zithromax) or clarithromycin (Biaxin).

If you are a smoker, be sure to work with a physician to treat either pneumonia or bronchitis.

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