For many people, this time of year brings a common annoyance: cold and and cough. But how do you know what your cough is signaling?
Often, coughing is simply your body’s way of clearing your airways of irritants and preventing infection. But when the cough becomes deep, that is a sign something more serious is happening.
A deep cough from your chest may signal bronchitis or pneumonia. The symptoms of these conditions may be similar, but their causes can be very different. If you have signs or symptoms of either, you should consult your doctor immediately.
The symptoms of both bronchitis and pneumonia include chest inflammation, coughs that bring up phlegm, shortness of breath, and wheezing (these tend to be more severe in pneumonia cases). Fever is also associated with both conditions, though with bronchitis it is typically mild and with pneumonia it can be high and spiking.
Bronchitis is the inflammation of the bronchial tubes that lead to the lungs and can be caused by bacteria and toxins (such as tobacco smoke), but the main culprit is caused by and infection with one of several types of viruses. These viruses include the cold and flu.
Pneumonia is caused by an infection of the lungs. Although 1/3 of pneumonia cases are caused by viruses, most of them are bacterial related. The bacteria that cause them are very common, such as streptococcus pneumoniae which is the leading bacterial cause among all ages in the United States.
When in a consultation with your doctor, he will listen to your breathing with a stethoscope. You may be sent for chest X-rays to determine if you have pneumonia.
If you have bronchitis, your doctor with more than likely not prescribe you any antibiotics as they are not typically helpful (though he may prescribe medication, such as an albuterol inhaler, to open your airways). Bronchitis tends to last 10-20 days.
If you have pneumonia, your doctor will likely prescribe antibiotics as treatment. Having pneumonia may also require a stay in the hospital. It can take 1-4 weeks to recover.
In either case, take care to get plenty or rest and consume plenty of fluids.
The best way to prevent bronchitis and pneumonia is to avoid infections such as the cold and flu by taking preventative measures such as hand washing, hand sanitizing, covering your cough, avoiding people who are coughing or ill, and avoiding smoking. Find more information on cold and flu prevention here.