Written by Janelle Martel | Published on July 12, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD


Bronchopneumonia is a type of pneumonia. Pneumonia is inflammation of the lungs, caused by infection from viruses, bacteria, or fungi. The infection causes inflammation in the alveoli (also known as air sacs) in the lungs, causing the alveoli to become filled with pus or fluid.

There are two types of pneumonia: lobar and bronchial. Lobar pneumonia affects one or more sections, or lobes, or the lungs. Bronchopneumonia affects both lungs and the bronchi. Bronchopneumonia can be mild or severe, with viral bronchopneumonia usually being less severe.

What Causes Bronchopneumonia?

Both forms of pneumonia are often caused by coming into contact with viruses and bacteria in your day-to-day routine. Most cases of bacterial pneumonia are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia; however, it is not uncommon for pneumonia to be caused by more than one type of bacteria. Other possible culprits include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae

Most cases of viral pneumonia are caused by the same viruses that cause cold and flu.

According to the Mayo Clinic, very severe forms of pneumonia are often acquired in hospital settings. While they may be caused by some of the aforementioned bacteria, this form of pneumonia can be caused by a host of antibiotic-resistant germs within a healthcare setting (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

Who Is at Risk?

Certain groups of people are more at risk for developing bronchopneumonia. Risk factors include:

  • being age 2 or younger
  • being 65 years old or older
  • having a lung disease, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • having HIV/AIDS
  • having a chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes
  • having a weakened immune system, which may be caused by chemotherapy or use of immunosuppressive drugs
  • being on a ventilator
  • smoking
  • heavy alcohol use
  • trouble coughing or swallowing
  • being malnourished

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Viral bronchopneumonia may initially present with flu-like symptoms, but progress in a few days. Symptoms of bronchopneumonia include:

  • fever
  • cough that brings up mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing
  • sweating
  • chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • confusion or delirium, especially in older people

Tests and Diagnosis

Your doctor will begin by conducting a physical examination. He or she may take your temperature to look for a fever. Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs. He or she is listening for a bubbling or wheezing sound that is common with this condition. Your doctor will also listen to various places on your chest to identify areas where it is harder to hear your breathing, indicating that they are affected by bronchopneumonia.

Your doctor may diagnose you based on a physical examination or you may be sent for tests to rule out other possible causes.

Your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC) to look at the number of white blood cells in your blood. An elevated number of white blood cells may indicate a bacterial infection. Your doctor may also have your blood tested to determine which virus, bacterium, or fungus is causing your bronchopneumonia.

A chest X-ray is one of the best ways to diagnose this condition. This test uses electromagnetic radiation to create a picture of the lungs and chest, which can allow your doctor to locate areas that are affected by bronchopneumonia.

If you are quite ill, your doctor may order more tests to get information about the severity of your illness as well as what is causing the condition:

  • A computed tomography (CT) scan produces a picture similar to an X-ray but in more detail. This will tell your doctor where the infection is occurring in your lungs.
  • A sputum culture tests a sample of mucus from your lungs to determine the cause of the infection.
  • A bronchoscopy involves putting a camera down your throat to look at your bronchial tubes. This can be done to determine if there are other factors causing your bronchopneumonia.
  • Finally, your doctor may order a pulse oximetry. This test requires you to put a sensor on your finger and measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. The results of this test can tell your doctor the extent or severity of the infection and its effect on your ability to absorb oxygen.

Treatment Options

Viral bronchopneumonia normally does not require medical treatment and improves on its own in one to two weeks. Antivirals can help reduce the length of your illness and the severity of your symptoms.

If you have bacterial bronchopneumonia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics to destroy the bacteria causing the infection. Most people feel better within one to three days after starting antibiotics. However, it is important that you finish your entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning.

Your doctor may also suggest a fever reducer or cough medication for both viral and bacterial bronchopneumonia. These medications can help relieve your symptoms, but will not cure you.

Home treatment can also help relieve your symptoms. Home treatment includes:

  • rest
  • drinking plenty of warm fluids
  • using a humidifier
  • drinking plenty of water

You may be admitted to the hospital if your infection is severe and if you meet two or more of the following criteria:

  • you are over the age of 65
  • your breathing is rapid
  • your blood pressure drops
  • you become confused
  • you need breathing assistance

Hospital treatment may include intravenous (IV) antibiotics. If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may be given oxygen therapy to help return your blood oxygen levels to normal.

Prevention Tips

Vaccinations can be very helpful in preventing bronchopneumonia. Having an annual flu shot can also be helpful, as influenza can indirectly cause the pneumonia. A pneumococcus vaccine is also available and is effective for five years. This is suggested for individuals over the age of 65, individuals who are living in a long-term care facility, and individuals who are at increased risk for developing bronchopneumonia. Children under age 2 can receive a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. This vaccine is also suggested for children who are between the ages of 2 and 5 who are at risk for developing pneumococcal disease or who attend a childcare facility (Mayo Clinic, 2011).

Simple care measures can reduce your risk of getting sick, including developing bronchopneumonia. These measures include:

  • washing your hands regularly
  • avoiding smoking
  • not using alcohol heavily
  • avoiding contact with sick individuals
  • maintaining a healthy diet
  • exercising
  • staying well-rested
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