Healthy Living

How Is Bronchitis Differentiated from Other Chest Infections?

How Is Bronchitis Differentiated from Other Chest Infections?

Bronchial tubes are the airways through which air travels and reaches the lungs. The inflammation of these bronchial tubes is called bronchitis. The inflammation is more often caused by a viral infection, smoke, dust, or other irritants.

Bronchitis may be due to a chest infection, inflammation of the bronchial tubes, as well as an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia and bronchitis are the most common types of chest infections.

Symptoms of a Chest Infection

  • Frequent coughing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • High fever
  • Chest pain and tightness 
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Wheezing
  • Headache
  • Disorientation
  • Fatigue
  • Pain in the joints and muscles
  • Loss of appetite

There are different types of infections that affect the lungs or the airways of the lungs. Chest infections usually occur during winter, and very often followed by a cold or flu. The people who are more vulnerable to this lung condition are:

  • Babies
  • Young children
  • Elderly people
  • Children with developmental problems
  • Pregnant women
  • Smokers
  • People with weak immunity

People suffering from long-term illnesses such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), HIV infection, diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and other heart-related problems are also prone to developing bronchitis. Most of the time, chest infections are mild and resolve by themselves after a short time, except for some, which may be severe and life-threatening.

Causes of Chest Infections

1. Flu

This respiratory disease is caused by the influenza virus. The flu virus damages the epithelial lining of the lungs. There are many strains of the influenza virus that can cause flu. Swine flu or H1N1 flu and bird flu are some of the flu viruses that have caused hospitalizations and death all over the world. These flu viruses cause highly contagious diseases and are usually spread to other people through a cough or sneeze.

People can also get infected with the flu virus by shaking hands with the infected person. The symptoms of flu usually appear after two or three days of getting infected. Pain in the limbs and joints, headache, body pain, tiredness, and high fever are the symptoms of flu. Since flu is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not work against this illness. However, painkillers may help reduce the pain and other symptoms.

2. Common Cold

The common cold is a very common disease caused by different types of viruses, which affect the upper respiratory system. The virus called rhinovirus is the one that causes the majority of common cold-related health conditions. The infection caused by rhinoviruses is less troublesome and resolves without any treatment. Since hundreds of viruses can cause a common cold, and it is not a severe medical condition, a vaccine for this disease has not been developed.

3. Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection that makes the affected person very sick. Pneumonia occurs when a bacterial or viral infection causes an inflammation of the lungs, resulting in the air sacs filling up with pus, and in some cases, become solid.

The symptoms of pneumonia are similar to that of bronchitis. However, people with pneumonia experience additional symptoms such as high fever, faster heart rate, faster breathing, and shaking chills. Moreover, the cough will bring out mucus and sometimes accompanied by blood giving a rusty appearance.

This type of lung infection may last for two to three weeks. However, older adults with weak immune systems, babies, and people with other medical conditions may become very sick, requiring them for hospitalization. Pneumonia is a disease that can commonly affect anyone in the community. Both viruses and bacteria can cause this disease. Pneumonia shows up in a chest X-ray as a patch on one or both lungs.

4. Asthma

Asthma is also a lung disease due to an inflammation of the lower respiratory system. The inflammation causes swelling of the bronchial tubes, narrows the air passage to the lungs, and creates breathing difficulties.

People with asthma will have a short breath and they usually feel tightness in their chest while coughing. It is a chronic disease that frequently attacks asthmatics. People who have asthma will always feel fatigued, look tired, and weak. Although bronchitis and asthma may seem to have similar symptoms, they are different lung conditions that require different treatments. 

Bronchitis is caused by an infection or by a long-term exposure to irritants that can damage the bronchi. Additionally, it can be clearly distinguished from asthma, which mainly happens as a result of hypersensitivity or an allergic reaction.

5. Pertussis 

Pertussis is a disease that is also known as a "whooping cough". It is caused by the bacteria Bordetella pertussis and is very contagious. This respiratory disease is characterized by bouts of persistent coughing, which causes difficulty breathing. The cough of people with pertussis has a distinct loud sound while they gasp for air. The coughing sound can be described as a “whoop”, hence the term "whooping cough". Vaccinations are available for the prevention of this disease.

6. Pleurisy or Pleuritis 

There is a layer of tissue that lines the lungs, and it called the pleura. Pleurisy is a condition that involves the inflammation of the pleural layer. This type of chest infection occurs in people who already have the influenza virus, tuberculosis, and lung clots. Hence, pleurisy is considered by doctors as a secondary infection. 

The symptoms of pleuritis include:

  • Pain in the chest (especially when the patient breathes in)
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Pain in the back and shoulders

The doctor will resolve the above-mentioned primary infections first before starting the treatment for this disease. The main symptom of this disease is chest pain while breathing. 


The human respiratory tract begins at the nose, mouth, and continues down to the lungs. The respiratory tract is divided into the upper and lower respiratory tracts. The upper respiratory tract includes the nose and mouth, the nasal passages, the pharynx, and the part of the larynx or voice box above the vocal cords. The lower respiratory tract includes the larynx from below the vocal cords, the trachea, bronchi, bronchioles, and lungs.

Infections or diseases of the lower respiratory tract are more commonly referred to as chest infections. There are several types of chest infections. Bronchitis, which occurs due to the inflammation of the bronchi (bronchial tubes) can be caused by an infection or long-term exposure to irritants such as cigarette smoke, industrial fumes, dust, etc.

Even though the symptoms of all chest infections can be similar, bronchitis can be differentiated from other chest infections like the flu, common cold, pneumonia, asthma, pertussis, and pleurisy by examining the cause of the illness and the exact location that is affected by the infection. The common cold is more of an upper respiratory tract infection caused by rhinoviruses. The flu is specifically caused by the influenza virus.

While asthma is also a result of inflammation in the bronchi like bronchitis, it is mainly caused by hypersensitivity and allergic reactions. Pneumonia, on the other hand, affects the air sacs within the lungs and not the bronchi. Pertussis or "whooping cough" is caused by a very specific bacterial infection while pleurisy is an inflammation of the pleural tissue in the lungs.