Local (Wasatch Front)

Doctor explains differences between a cold, bronchitis, and pneumonia

2/13/2014 - SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC 4 Utah) - It's been a rough winter for people with colds, bronchitis and pneumonia – and Utah's poor air has only made it tougher.
How can you tell what you have? When should you see a doctor?

During the winter, many people get the common cold. There isn't really a medicine that can treat it, but rather over the counter medicines can help people deal with the symptoms of the bug. But at what point can a common cold develop into bronchitis, or even pneumonia, and during bad air days, are people with colds more susceptible to having it develop into something worse?

A chest cold, bronchitis or pneumonia - how can you tell the difference and when is it time to go to the doctor? The difference between bronchitis and pneumonia is that bronchitis causes an inflammation of the air passages while pneumonia causes fluid in the lungs due to an infection. The common cold however, allows people to remain active and presents itself with a clear runny nose, cough, and a low-grade or no fever.

For parents and family members, it can be very difficult to tell what's causing your coughing, sneezing, runny nose, chest congestion or other symptoms.

Common Cold
The common cold is one of the most common infectious diseases. The infection is usually mild and improves without treatment. Because of the large number of people who get the common cold, this illness results in nearly 26 million days of missed school and 23 million days of absence from work every year in the United States. The average American has one to three colds per year.

The common cold is an upper respiratory infection that is caused by several families of viruses. Within these virus families, more than 200 specific viruses that can cause the common cold have been identified. The virus family that causes the most colds is called rhinovirus. Since so many viruses can cause cold symptoms, development of a vaccine for the common cold has not been possible.

Bronchitis -- sometimes referred to as a chest cold -- occurs when the airways in your lungs are inflamed and make too much mucus. There are two basic types of bronchitis:

1. Acute bronchitis is more common and usually is caused by a viral infection. Acute bronchitis may also be called a chest cold. Episodes of acute bronchitis can be related to and made worse by smoking. This type of bronchitis is often described as being worse than a regular cold but not as bad as pneumonia.

2. Chronic bronchitis is a cough that persists for two to three months each year for at least two years. Smoking is the most common cause of chronic bronchitis.

Symptoms include: A cough that is frequent and produces mucus; a lack of energy; a wheezing sound when breathing, which may or may not be present; a fever, which may or may not be present.

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can make you very sick. You may cough, run a fever, and have a hard time breathing. For most people, pneumonia can be treated at home. It often clears up in 2 to 3 weeks. But older adults, babies, and people with other diseases can become very ill. They may need to be in the hospital.

You can get pneumonia in your daily life, such as at school or work. This is called community-associated pneumonia. Germs called bacteria or viruses usually cause pneumonia.

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