Both bronchitis and pneumonia are caused by inflammation in the lungs, but bronchitis is more often viral, and pneumonia is usually bacterial. Bronchitis occurs mostly after middle age and cannot really be prevented by those at risk. Pneumonia, on the other hand, can be prevented by taking appropriate measures.

Bronchitis can be acute or chronic; this comparison talks about acute bronchitis, from which the patient can recover in about two weeks.

Comparison chart

Bronchitis versus Pneumonia comparison chart
Edit this comparison chartBronchitisPneumonia
Introduction Bronchitis is an inflammation of the mucous membranes of the bronchi. Bronchitis can be divided into two categories: acute and chronic. Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung—affecting primarily the microscopic air sacs known as alveoli.
Causes Infection usually viral, though sometimes bacterial Inflamed mucus membranes in bronchial passages Irritated membranes swell, causing coughing
Risk Factors Prior upper respiratory infection, smoking, age, Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) Age, diabetes, heart disorders Pulmonary disorders— COPD, bronchial obstruction, viral lung infections, intubation
Symptoms Dry cough progresses to "mucopurulent sputum, " mucus from the lungs Slight fever, fatigue, burning feeling in chest, wheezing
Fever Slight or nonexistent Often higher than 101 degrees F
Cough Dry at first Produces mucus
Mucus Clear, yellow, green or tinged with blood Rusty, green or tinged with blood
Severity Doctor's visit only necessary for elderly, small children and people with compromised immune systems Hospitalization necessary for the elderly, those with risk factors and people with compromised immune systems
Treatment No antibiotics unless caused by bacteria In some cases oral steroids and supplemental oxygen Antibiotics; In some cases supplemental oxygen is necessary
ICD-10 J20-J21, J42 J12, J13, J14, J15, J16, J17, J18, P23
ICD-9 466, 491, 490 480-486, 770.0
DiseasesDB 29135 10166
MedlinePlus 001087 000145
eMedicine article/807035 article/297108 topic list
MeSH D001991 D011014
Duration Generally lasts two to three weeks May last longer than two to three weeks.


Bronchitis is an infection causing inflammation of the bronchi (tubes in the lungs). With acute bronchitis, a dry cough progresses to form mucopurulent sputum (mucus) in the lungs. Mucus is clear, yellow, green or tinged with blood. Patients also feel fatigue, wheezing and a burning feeling in the chest. A fever, if at all present, may be only slight.

Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by bacteria or a virus. Patients have difficulty breathing, chills and a mucus-producing cough. The mucus is rusty, green or tinged with blood. Symptoms can also include an elevated heart rate (faster than 100 beats per minute), and an elevated breathing rate (faster than 24 breaths per minute). Pneumonia often causes fever over 101 degrees F.


Bronchitis is caused by infection, usually viral, although it as known to be bacterial at times. The infection causes inflammation of the mucus membranes in the bronchial passages. The irritated membranes swell, causing coughing. Viruses causing bronchitis include coronavirus, influenza A and B, parainfluenza, rhinovirus and RSV. Bacterial infections are caused by one of the following: bordetella pertussis, chlamydia, H influenza, katarrhalis, moraxella, mycoplasma, S. Aureus or S. pneumoniae.

Pneumonia is also caused by an infection, and is more often bacterial than viral. The infection causes inflammation of the lungs. Because of the inflammation, the lung leaks fluids and sheds dead cells, clogging up air sacks. As the fluid builds up, the body doesn't get enough oxygen. The organisms responsible for pneumonial infection are S. pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.

Risk Factors

Certain risk factors like heavy smoking make people more prone to acute bronchitis. People with a prior upper respiratory infection get bronchitis more often, as do those with gastro-esophageal reflux disease (GERD). Age is also considered a risk factor.

As with bronchitis, age and smoking contribute t the risk of getting pneumonia. People with diabetes, heart disorders or pulmonary disorders such as COPD, bronchial obstruction or viral lung infections are more likely to develop pneumonia. Pneumonia is known to prevail among people who have been intubated or suffered a stroke.

Bronchitis and pneumonia affect the elderly and infants more than any other age group.


In the United States, approximately 1 out of every 21, or 12.5 million, people will experience acute bronchitis each year. In 1999, there were 388 deaths related to acute bronchitis and bronchiolitis.

For pneumonia, geography relates to worldwide cases: 97% of pneumonia cases occur in developing countries. Geographical location within the developed world does not affect cases of pneumonia. However, among people with pneumonia, those in the developed world are more likely to survive pneumonia, males are 30 percent more likely to die than females, and children and the elderly are least likely to survive.

Percentage of total deaths in children under 5 caused by pneumonia around the world
Percentage of total deaths in children under 5 caused by pneumonia around the world


Bronchitis cannot really be prevented as such, but the risk of contracting bronchitis can be reduced by getting a flu vaccination, avoiding exposure to bacteria and irritants like dust mites, fumes and air pollution. Most importantly, avoid first-hand or second-hand cigarette smoke.

Pneumonia can be mostly prevented. For people at a high risk of getting pneumonia, getting a pneumococcal pneumonia vaccination is important. Getting a flu shot, avoiding cigarette smoke and washing the hands frequently reduce the risk of contracting pneumonia.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Doctors diagnose bronchitis during a physical exam. Generally speaking, people with bronchitis do not need to go to the doctor, unless they are at risk or have a compromised immune system. Doctors do not prescribe antibiotics unless the inflammation is caused by bacteria rather than a virus. In some cases, sufferers do require oral steroids and supplemental oxygen. Acute bronchitis usually lasts between two to three weeks.

Doctors also diagnose pneumonia during a physical exam, and may require a chest X-ray as well. They generally prescribe antibiotics and sometimes supplemental oxygen. Hospitalization is often necessary for the elderly, those at risk and people with compromised immune systems. Pneumonia may last longer than two or three weeks.


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