In the past few days, we’ve seen several patients at Doctors Express of Timonium afflicted with an upper respiratory virus. When that cough hangs on past a week or two, sufferers want to know: When should I be concerned that my common cold has turned into bronchitis or pneumonia?
Bronchitis is often caused by the same viruses that can lead to a common cold and may occur after an upper respiratory illness (like a cold). Symptoms include:
- lingering cough
- soreness in the chest
- low-grade fever
Also known as a “chest cold,” bronchitis occurs when the bronchial tubes, which carry air to the lungs, become inflamed—so they swell and produce mucus, which makes you cough. Since the condition is most often caused by a virus, it does not respond to antibiotics and usually resolves itself within a couple of weeks. The cough, however, can last up to eight weeks.
Pneumonia, a lung infection that can be much more serious, typically includes
inflammation of the lungs’ air sacs, which may in turn fill with fluid or pus.
Pneumonia is often characterized by a sudden onset of symptoms, including:
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
- shaking chills
Folks at a higher risk of getting pneumonia are those over 65 and under 5 or anyone with a compromised immune system. Smokers and asthmatics are also at increased risk. Unlike bronchitis, pneumonia is usually caused by a bacterial infection, so antibiotics can help you feel better in a couple of days, although severe cases may require a hospital stay and/or a recovery time of closer to three weeks. Fatigue from a bout of pneumonia may linger for a month or more.
The term “walking pneumonia” refers to a mild version of the illness, which may slow you down but not enough to stay in bed.
Visit a health care professional if you have a cold that you just can’t kick, especially if you have a fever and/or a stubborn cough. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best way to get back to your normal routine as quickly as