Pneumonia is a lung infection in which the air sacs, called alveoli, become inflamed and fill with fluid. Bronchitis, on the other hand, is much more common and describes inflammation of the air passageways (trachea and bronchial tubes) going down to the lungs. While pneumonia is more serious, both are usually caused by either a bacteria, virus or fungus. Pneumonia can be life threatening, and people who smoke, have COPD or asthma, have heart disease, are 65 or older, are newborns or have a weakened immune condition due to chronic steroid use, AIDS or poorly controlled diabetes are at higher risk of complications and death. Two vaccines to prevent pneumococcal pneumonia are indicated for most high-risk groups, and a yearly influenza vaccine is recommended for the general population over 6 months of age (see Now is the Time to Prevent Deadly Cases of Influenza).
Symptoms of pneumonia are frequently difficult to distinguish from the less serious bronchitis. However, pneumonia is more likely and medical care should be sought if one has a cough lasting 10-14 days or more, a fever of 101F or higher, shaking chills (rigors), shortness of breath, chest pain over a lung when coughing and/or producing rust or blood colored sputum with cough (see When to See Your Doctor for a Cough). Pneumonia is also more likely if any of these symptoms develop near the end of a cold or flu.
If you believe you may have a case of pneumonia and are a member of our Direct Primary Care program, give us a call to set up an appointment. If you are not a member, and would like to find out more about North Idaho Direct Primary Care, click here for further reading. If you found this article helpful, you can also click here to sign up for our monthly newsletter.