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.
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.
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.
Productive cough (coughing up phlegm).
Infants usually do not show any signs of infection. Sometimes, they might exhibit the following symptoms:
Refuse taking feeds.
If you notice the following signs and symptoms, consult a doctor immediately:
Fever (102 F or higher).
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.
Certain factors that increase the risk of pneumonia are:
Infants and children that are younger than 5 years.
Adults above 65 years.
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.
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.
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.
Rest properly and keep yourself hydrated.
Drinking water will help loosen mucus in the lungs.
Take your prescribed medicines properly.
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.
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.
Wash hands with soap and water regularly.
Sneeze and cough with your mouth covered.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle.
For more information on pneumonia, consult a pulmonologist online now.
Last reviewed at:
12 Dec 2019 - 5 min read
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