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Pneumonia - Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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Pneumonia - Symptoms, Causes, Risk Factors, Diagnosis, Treatment and Prevention

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This article discusses the causes, symptoms, risk factors, diagnosis, and treatment of pneumonia, which is a lung infection caused by bacteria. It also includes ways to prevent pneumonia.

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At December 12, 2019
Reviewed AtJanuary 3, 2023

What Is Pneumonia?

An infection that causes inflammation of air sacs in the lungs is called pneumonia. These air sacs may get filled with pus or fluid, which results in coughing up phlegm. The other common symptoms include fever, chills, and breathing difficulties. Pneumonia can be caused by various bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Pneumonia can lead to life-threatening complications especially in infants, young children, older adults (65 years and above), and people with chronic illnesses and immunocompromised disease. It can affect people of any age and can cause mild to fatal complications. Pneumonia is the number cause of death due to infection in kids younger than 5 years worldwide.

What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

Depending on the causative organism, age, and overall health, pneumonia varies from mild to severe. The signs and symptoms are similar to a cold or flu in mild cases. The common signs and symptoms in adults include:

  • Chest pain on breathing.

  • Chest pain on coughing.

  • Mental confusion.

  • Productive cough (coughing up phlegm).

  • Tiredness.

  • Fever.

  • Chills.

  • Sweating.

  • Nausea.

  • Vomiting.

  • Diarrhea.

  • Shortness of breath.

Infants usually do not show any signs of infection. Sometimes, they might exhibit the following symptoms:

  • Vomiting.

  • Fever.

  • Cough.

  • Restlessness.

  • Difficulty breathing.

  • Refuse taking feeds.

If you notice the following signs and symptoms, consult a doctor immediately:

Breathing problems.

What Are the Causes of Pneumonia?

Depending on the causes, pneumonia can be divided into the following types:

1) Community-acquired pneumonia - It is the most common type and occurs outside of hospitals. It includes:

  • Bacterial pneumonia - It can be caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae, and Legionella pneumophila.

  • Viral pneumonia - Respiratory viruses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and rhinoviruses commonly cause this type of pneumonia.

  • Fungal pneumonia - This type commonly affects people with a weak immune system, and can result from fungi in soil or bird droppings. Pneumocystis jirovecii, Cryptococcus, and Histoplasmosis are some examples.

2) Hospital-acquired pneumonia - Hospitalized patients are at risk of getting pneumonia, which can result in fatal complications as the person is already sick and the causative organism are mostly resistant to most antibiotics. Patients on ventilators are at a higher risk.

3) Health care-acquired pneumonia - It is a type of pneumonia that results from a bacterial infection in people who live in long-term care hospitals. It includes patients who receive chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and kidney dialysis. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, this type of pneumonia are also caused by antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

4) Aspiration pneumonia - The type os pneumonia that results from inhaling food, drink, vomit or saliva into the lungs is called aspiration pneumonia. It usually occurs in patients with brain injury, swallowing problems, or alcoholism.

What Are the Risk Factors for Pneumonia?

Certain factors that increase the risk of pneumonia are:

  • Infants and children that are younger than 5 years.

  • Adults above 65 years.

  • Immunocompromised patients.

  • People who are exposed to pollution and certain chemicals

  • Patients receiving chemotherapy or under steroids.

  • Patients who have problems swallowing.

  • Smokers and people who drink excessively and take drugs.

  • Critical hospitalized patients on a ventilator.

  • People with chronic conditions like asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and heart failure.

  • Upper respiratory tract infection like cold and flu.

What Are the Ways to Diagnose Pneumonia?

If you exhibit signs and symptoms of pneumonia, your doctor will take a complete medical history, conduct a physical examination, and listen to your lungs with a stethoscope (crackling sounds). Your doctor will then suggest you take these tests:

  • Chest X-ray - To look for signs of inflammation in your chest.

  • Blood culture - It is used to identify the organism responsible for the infection.

  • Sputum culture - Here, your sputum is collected and sent for analyses. This also shows the cause of the infection.

  • Pulse oximetry - It measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. The doctor will know if enough oxygen is getting circulated in your body.

  • CT scan - It gives a more clear picture of the lungs.

  • Pleural fluid culture- The fluid collected from the pleural space is also sent to the lab to identify the causative organism.

  • Bronchoscopy - A thin and flexible tube is inserted into the lungs through the throat.

What are the treatment options for pneumonia?

Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia. The treatment options include:

  • Antibiotics - It is only used for bacterial pneumonia.

  • Cough medicine - Coughing helps loosen and move fluid from the lungs, so avoid taking cough syrups as much as possible. If needed, take a very low dose at night, as it will help you sleep better.

  • Fever medicine - If you have fever, your doctor will prescribe Paracetamol.

  • Pain medicines - To reduce chest pain and discomfort, the doctor might give you painkillers like Aspirin or Ibuprofen.

  • Antifungals - Antifungal medicines are prescribed for fungal pneumonia.

Home Remedies:

  • Rest properly and keep yourself hydrated.

  • Drinking water will help loosen mucus in the lungs.

  • Take your prescribed medicines properly.

What Are the Complications of Pneumonia?

Some of the complications include:

  • Bacteremia - Bacteria can enter the blood from the lungs, which results in the spread of infection. This can lead to multiple organ failure.

  • Breathing difficulty - Patients with breathing problems need to be put on ventilators.

  • Pleural effusion - Fluid can get accumulated around the lungs, which can get infected. This fluid needs to be drained out using a chest tube or surgery.

  • Lung abscess - Sometimes, pus forms in the lung cavities, resulting in lung abscess. Treatment is done with antibiotics or the pus is drained by inserting a needle or tube into it.

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome - It is a medical emergency caused by acute respiratory failure.

  • Death - Some cases of pneumonia can be fatal.

How to Prevent Pneumonia?

Some tips to prevent pneumonia are:

  • There are various vaccines available to prevent pneumonia, for example, Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23, flu vaccine, Hib (Haemophilus influenzae type b) vaccine, etc. Pneumonia vaccines do not prevent all types of pneumonia, but it lowers the risk of complications.

  • Quit smoking.

  • Wash hands with soap and water regularly.

  • Sneeze and cough with your mouth covered.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle.

  • Eat healthily.

  • Exercise regularly.

For more information on pneumonia, consult a pulmonologist online now.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

What Are the Treatment Options for Pneumonia?

The treatment option varies depending on the type of pneumonia. Following are some of the options:
- Antibiotics - Antibiotics are mainly used for bacterial pneumonia.
- Cough Medicine - Coughing helps loosen and move fluid from the lungs. Hence, refrain from taking cough syrups as much as possible. Start with a low dose at night, as it will help one sleep better.
- Fever Medicine - The doctor prescribes Paracetamol for those who have a fever.
- Pain Relievers - To reduce chest pain and discomfort, the doctor might prescribe painkillers like Aspirin or Ibuprofen.
- Antifungals - Antifungal medicines are prescribed for fungal pneumonia.

2.

What Is the First Line Treatment for Pneumonia?

The mainstay of treatment for pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. The antibiotic of choice for first-line treatment is Amoxicillin dispersible tablets. However, most pneumonia cases require oral antibiotics, usually prescribed by a healthcare provider.

3.

How Does Pneumonia Spread From One to Another?

Bacterial, viral, or fungal organisms cause pneumonia. Pneumonia is not contagious, but its causative organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, are. Fungal pneumonia is not contagious and does not spread from one person to another, like viruses and bacteria. Bacterial and viral pneumonia can spread in several ways, including:
- Coughs or sneezes that are not covered. 
- Sharing personal articles.
- Touching infected surfaces that someone with pneumonia has used it.
- Not washing the hands regularly, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing the nose. 

4.

What Are the Major Complications of Pneumonia?

Some of the potential complications include the following:
- Bacteremia.
- Breathing difficulty.
- Pleural effusion.
- Lung abscess.
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome.
- Some cases of pneumonia can be fatal and can cause death.

5.

What Are the Warning Signs of Pneumonia?

If one notices the following signs and symptoms, consult a doctor immediately:
- Breathing problems.
- Chest pain.
- Fever (102 Fahrenheit or higher).
- Persistent cough.

6.

Is Pneumonia a Common Disease?

Pneumonia is a common illness, with millions of people diagnosed yearly worldwide. It is the most common cause of death in developing countries. Anyone can get pneumonia, and it can cause mild to lethal complications. Pneumonia cause death due to infection in kids younger than five years worldwide.

7.

What Is the Most Common Viral Cause of Pneumonia?

Various bacteria, viruses, and fungi can also cause pneumonia. Respiratory viruses like influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), COVID-19, and rhinoviruses commonly cause viral pneumonia.

8.

What Organs Are Most Affected by Pneumonia?

Pneumonia causes inflammation of air sacs in the lungs. These air sacs may get filled with pus or fluid, resulting in phlegm coughing. The other common symptoms may include fever, chills, and breathing problems.

9.

Who Is at More Risk for Pneumonia?

Infants and children younger than five years and adults above 65 years are at higher risk for pneumonia. In addition, immunocompromised people, those receiving chemotherapy or under steroids, who are exposed to pollution and certain chemicals, Smokers, and people who drink excessively and take drugs are also at increased risk for pneumococcal diseases.

10.

Is Pneumonia Life Threatening?

Pneumonia is a life-threatening complication, especially in infants, young children, older adults (65 years and above), and people with chronic illnesses and immunocompromised disease. However, it can affect individuals of any age and cause mild to fatal complications. Potential complications include bacteremia, breathing difficulty, pleural effusion, and lung abscess.

11.

Is Pneumonia Curable?

An otherwise healthy person can recover quickly from pneumonia if they receive prompt care and treatment. However, pneumonia can be fatal if left untreated, especially if someone has an underlying health condition. In addition, even those successfully treated and fully recovered can face long-term health issues, such as the decreased ability to exercise, worsening of cardiovascular disease, mental decline, and a general decline in quality of life.
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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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