Pneumonia vs. Bronchitis

Instructor: Artem Cheprasov

Artem has a doctor of veterinary medicine degree.

Do you want to know the key difference between pneumonia and bronchitis? This lesson defines both words and describes how they are fundamentally different.

The Roots of a Tree

Imagine a plant in front of you. Into the ground extends one large root. From that root medium sized roots break off. From those roots even smaller roots break off. And on the ends of the smallest roots are spherical nodules. The main root is like your trachea, the windpipe, going into your chest. The root branches are the bronchi and bronchioles (smaller bronchi), which are the airways of your lungs. The root nodules are the alveoli, or air sacs of the lungs.

Remember this as we're going to learn about the basics of pneumonia and bronchitis thanks to this mental picture.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia, in common usage, refers to the infection of the lungs. If you broke the word down into word parts you'd get 'pneumon-', which refers to the lungs in this case and '-ia', which refers to some sort of abnormal condition. More medically speaking, pneumonia refers to the inflammation of the lungs as a result of some sort of trigger. This inflammation leads to accumulation of fluid within the lungs. This trigger can be infectious in nature, like due to viruses, bacteria, or fungi. However, it does not have to be. Pneumonia can be triggered by non-infectious causes, like chemical irritants.

The alveoli of the lungs

In pneumonia, it is the root nodules, the alveoli, which fill with fluid. This is really bad. The alveoli (air sacs) of your lungs are responsible for gas exchange. If they're filled with fluid they can't get enough life-sustaining oxygen into the body. The flipside is that they can't get rid of life-threatening carbon dioxide out of the body either.

Pneumonia will cause a fever, chest pain, and shortness of breath, among other signs and symptoms. This disorder is treated with drugs like antibiotics (if caused by bacteria), cough medication, and fever reducers.

The major signs and symptoms of pneumonia

What is Bronchitis?

Bronchitis is different than pneumonia, although the former can lead to the latter. Bronchitis comes from the term 'bronchi(o)-', which refers to the airways of the lungs, but not the air sacs (the alveoli). The suffix '-itis' means inflammation. So bronchitis literally means the inflammation of the airways of the lungs. Thus, bronchitis may involve the trachea and the bronchi. Bronchitis can be triggered by infectious organisms, namely viruses, as well as air pollution, smoking, and even toxic gases.

People with bronchitis will cough, produce sputum, and may feel like they are short of breath. If an infection is to blame for their ills, they will have a fever and chills. Treatment includes the use of antibiotics if a bacterial infection is suspected. Cough medicine may be given as well. If the bronchitis is caused by smoking, then lifestyle changes are in order.

Healthy airways vs. airways during bronchitis

Lesson Summary

The takeaway in terms of pneumonia vs. bronchitis is that pneumonia is mainly a problem that involves the alveoli (our root nodules) while bronchitis is a disorder that mainly involves the roots (the airways).

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