close up of lungs showing pneumonia and asthma

The Link Between Asthma and Pneumonia

It would seem that my family has lung complications coded into our genome. I have asthma, my father suffers from chronic bronchitis, and my sister would get pneumonia almost every year. Ironically the only one without lung complications is my mother, the ex-smoker.

My sister was recently diagnosed with asthma at a later age of 26. My immediate thought was it could have been caused by the consecutive years of winter-time-pneumonia. This thought sparked more questions about how the two illnesses are linked. Can pneumonia cause asthma? Or, can asthma cause pneumonia?  Welcome to the summary of my journey down the research rabbit hole. I made it back with some new knowledge and a better understanding of my sister's experience.

A comparison of asthma and pneumonia

Asthma

  • Asthma, as many readers will already know, is the chronic inflammation of the airways and lungs. It's onset can happen at any age, for a variety of reasons.1
  • Asthma is often treated with medications such as bronchodilators, steroids, and anti-inflammatories.1

Pneumonia

  • Pneumonia is an infection, caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, that causes inflammation in the air sacs in either one or both lungs. In some cases these inflamed sacs will fill with fluid.2
  • Pneumonia is often treated with antibiotics.2

So, both asthma and pneumonia are inflammations of the pulmonary system. However, asthma is chronic inflammation that is present without infection, whereas pneumonia is a lung infection that causes inflammation. While each are treated with different medications, both use oxygen therapy as a supportive treatment.

Can asthma cause pneumonia?

The short answer is, no. Not really, anyways. I always like to know 'why', though. Chances are, because you’re reading this, you do too! So here’s the 'why':

Asthma is not a virus, bacteria, or fungi; rather, it is existing inflammation in the airways. Pneumonia is an infection that is the effect of one of the microbes previously mentioned. Therefore, asthma is not a cause of pneumonia. However, because asthma compromises the airways and can make one more susceptible to lung infections, it can be said that asthma increases the risk of contracting pneumonia.3

Can pneumonia cause asthma?

The short answer is, yes, it can! Once again, though, here's the ‘why’ it can:

While pneumonia can be contracted in a number of ways, the infection is always hard on the lungs. Symptoms of pneumonia include coughing and difficulty breathing - sound familiar? That’s because asthma shares the same symptoms, and for good reason. Pneumonia causes inflammation in the lungs, much like asthma, and in some cases pneumonia can cause damage to the lungs, resulting in lasting inflammation. Asthma can be a consequence of a severe case of pneumonia, or due to multiple cases of pneumonia, because of the amount of inflammation accumulated in the lungs and airways.4

My sister's asthma diagnosis

My sister’s asthma may have been an effect of her numerous encounters with pneumonia. Over the years, the inflammation caused by her pneumonia may have compacted in her lungs, as they received more damage from each infection. The result was a long-lasting cough after a recent illness, one that was ultimately diagnosed by her physician as asthma.

The take away

The similarity between asthma and pneumonia is that both are illnesses of the pulmonary system, but make no mistake, they are very different illnesses. They share similar symptoms and are often associated with one another; however, the illnesses have different causes and treatments. The relationship really differs in how one illness can affect the other. I hope that this gave you some insight into both pneumonia and asthma and some clarity of how they can interact with each other.

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