Asthma and Pneumonia: The Difference Between Symptoms

Jul 22, 2021

Health and Wellness

Asthma and Pneumonia: The Difference Between Symptoms

Asthma and pneumonia are two distinct respiratory conditions that affect the lungs. Although they have different causes and treatments, they share some common symptoms like coughing and shortness of breath. Due to this, detecting pneumonia may be difficult in people with asthma.

How are Asthma and Pneumonia Linked?

Although asthma does not cause pneumonia directly if you have chronic respiratory conditions such as asthma, you are more at risk for developing pneumonia due to previous damage to the lungs or weakening of lung tissues. Furthermore, if you have asthma and get the flu, the condition could worsen compared to someone who does not have asthma. According to recent studies, those with asthma who get the flu have a higher risk of developing pneumonia as a complication. Inhaled corticosteroids are often used for the treatment of asthma. However, research has shown that these medicines can increase your risk of getting respiratory infections and pneumonia.

Differences between Asthma and Pneumonia

  • The key difference between asthma and pneumonia is that the former is a chronic and non-infectious condition, whereas the latter is a lung infection. 
  • Asthma can cause inflammation and narrowing of the airways. It affects the bronchioles, which are tiny branches of the airways in the lungs.
  • Pneumonia, however, is an infection that occurs in one or both lungs and causes inflammation in the air sacs and not just the bronchioles. 
  • Though pneumonia causes the lungs to fill with fluid and makes breathing painful, it can be treated. However, asthma is incurable but can be managed with prescribed medication. 

Asthma and Pneumonia: Key Symptoms

Both can cause:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Increase in pulse rate
  • Coughing
  • Increased respiratory rate

However, there are some key differences between the two diseases.

Apart from coughing, wheezing, and chest tightening, asthma can cause difficulty in breathing. The symptoms can range from mild to severe and can last a few minutes to several hours.

Pneumonia may initially have some of these same symptoms, and some might think they have a common cold. However, as the infection intensifies, the cough may be accompanied by yellow, green, or bloody mucus.

Other symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Fever
  • Clammy skin
  • Headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue 
  • Chest pain while coughing and breathing 

Asthma and Pneumonia: Key Causes and Risk Factors

Key Causes of Asthma: 

  • Respiratory infections (e.g., the common cold)
  • Air pollutants (e.g., smoke)
  • Airborne allergens (e.g., pollen)
  • Certain medications (e.g., aspirin)
  • Stress 
  • Sulfites and added preservatives to beverages and food

Risk Factors for Asthma:

  • Having a history of respiratory infections or allergies
  • A family history of asthma
  • Exposure to airborne allergens, smoke, or chemicals

Key Causes of Pneumonia:

  • Bacteria (Streptococcus pneumonia)
  • Bacteria-like organisms like the Mycoplasma Pneumoniae
  • Fungi
  • Viruses, including COVID-19

Risk Factors of Pneumonia:

  • Chronic lung disease
  • Liver disease
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes 

Diagnosing Asthma and Pneumonia

If you have symptoms of asthma, your doctor will want to look at your complete medical history. A thorough physical exam will be done, including an inspection of the nose, throat, and airways. They may also perform various allergy tests.

However, if your symptoms indicate pneumonia, your doctor will start by listening to your lungs. A key sign of pneumonia is that the lungs make a crackling sound while breathing. Often, an x-ray of the chest can confirm the diagnosis. You may also need blood work to ensure that you are getting enough oxygen and to get your WBC count. 

Treatment Options

Asthma requires constant management. If you can identify the triggers, you can avoid them by taking allergy medication. You can also use inhaled beta-2 agonists such as albuterol to expand airways. You may take long-term beta-2 agonists if you have severe asthma. For pneumonia, if you are otherwise healthy, home treatment is usually sufficient. This includes getting enough rest, staying hydrated, and using OTC medications like ibuprofen to control fever. Your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug for viral pneumonia or antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. However, those suffering from severe pneumonia may require hospitalization. 

If you wish to get yourself treated for asthma or pneumonia, please visit us at 8-2-8 Urgent Care walk-in clinic in Oceanside, CA, for the best medical services.

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