Can Bronchitis Turn into Pneumonia?

March 27, 2022

There’s nothing worse than contracting a common cold or the flu, and spending days (or even weeks) recovering only to find you’ve developed a nagging cough you just can’t shake even after other symptoms like fever and congestion have subsided. Given the fact that your immune system may be overwhelmed from fighting off illness, it’s important to know that common viruses can lead to more serious illness.

That deep cough, or acute bronchitis, is usually caused by a virus and typically follows an upper respiratory infection. Bronchitis causes the lining of the passages that carry air to and from your lungs to become inflamed, causing you to cough. Other symptoms of bronchitis (sometimes referred to as a “chest cold”) include:

  • Coughing with or without mucus production
  • A feeling of soreness in the chest
  • Fatigue
  • Mild head and body aches
  • Watery eyes
  • Sore throat
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Could my bronchitis turn into pneumonia?

Typically, bronchitis does not turn into pneumonia. In some cases, a person with bronchitis develops a secondary infection that may turn into pneumonia, usually when a bacterial infection spreads from the bronchial tubes to the lungs.

“While infrequent, this may occur in people with a weakened immune system or underlying health conditions like asthma,” said Texas MedClinic Chief Operating Officer.  Dr. David Gude. “Pneumonia causes the air sacs of one or both lungs to fill up with fluid or pus. When the air sacs fill with fluid, it prevents oxygen from reaching the bloodstream and can lead to serious complications.”

While bronchitis and pneumonia share similar symptoms, pneumonia is a more severe illness causing sharp pains in the chest when breathing deeply or coughing, excessive sweating, fever, loss of appetite or energy, and confusion.

I have a cough that won’t go away. When should I see a doctor?

It’s important to know that antibiotics will not help those suffering from bronchitis but can be used to treat some types of pneumonia, so it is essential to seek medical care with a primary care physician or urgent care center that day or the next to determine the cause of your cough.

Other signs that it is time to seek professional medical care include:

  • Running a temperature of 100.4°F or higher
  • A cough with bloody mucus
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Symptoms lasting longer than 3 weeks
  • Recurring bronchitis infections
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What can I do at home to feel better?

There are things you can do from home that can alleviate symptoms and help you feel better.

  • Get lots of rest and drink plenty of fluids
  • Use a humidifier, cool mist vaporizer, and/or saline drops to relieve nasal congestion
  • Take a hot shower and breathe in the steam or place your face over a bowl of hot water and cover your head with a towel to trap steam
  • Suck on throat lozenges
  • Use over-the-counter medications like Tylenol and Motrin to relieve pain, and cough and cold medicines to treat symptoms. Be sure to dose according to package directions and know what medications are in cough and cold syrups to ensure you are not accidentally overdosing certain medications (some cold medications also include pain relievers/anti-inflammatory ingredients).
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