What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
How Can Someone Get Pneumonia?Bacteria and viruses are the main causes of pneumonia. Pneumonia-causing germs can settle in the alveoli and multiply after a person breathes them in. Pneumonia can be contagious. The bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia are usually inhaled. They can be passed on through coughing and sneezing, or spread onto shared objects through touch.
The body sends white blood cells to attack the infection. This is why the air sacs become inflamed. The bacteria and viruses fill the lung sacs with fluid and pus, causing pneumonia.
Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems.
- Cough (with some pneumonia you may cough up greenish or yellow mucus, or even bloody mucus)
- Fever, which may be mild or high
- Shaking chills
- Fast breathing and feeling short of breath.
Who Can Get Pneumonia
Anyone can get pneumonia, but some people are at a higher risk than others. Risk factors (that increase your chances of getting pneumonia) include:
- Cigarette smoking
- Recent viral respiratory infection—a cold, laryngitis, influenza, etc.
- Difficulty swallowing (due to stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or other neurological conditions)
- Chronic lung disease such as COPD, bronchiectasis, or cystic fibrosis
- Cerebral palsy
- Other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis, or diabetes
- Living in a nursing facility
- Impaired consciousness (loss of brain function due to dementia, stroke, or other neurologic conditions)
- Recent surgery or trauma
- Having a weakened immune system due to illness, certain medications, and autoimmune disorders
Treatment depends on the type and severity of the pneumonia.
- Bacterial types of pneumonia are usually treated with antibiotics.
- Viral types of pneumonia are usually treated with rest and plenty of fluids. Antiviral medications can be used in influenza.
- Fungal types of pneumonia are usually treated with antifungal medications.
Doctors commonly prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help manage the symptoms of pneumonia. These include treatments for reducing fever, reducing aches and pains, and suppressing coughs.
In addition, it is crucial to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps to thin out thick phlegm and mucus, making it easier to cough up.
Hospitalization for pneumonia may be required if symptoms are especially bad or if an individual has a weakened immune system or other serious illnesses. In the hospital, patients are generally treated with intravenous antibiotics and fluids. They may need a supplemental oxygen supply.
Although most cases of pneumonia are bacterial and aren’t passed on from one person to another, ensuring good standards of hygiene will help prevent germs spreading.
For example, you should:
- Cover your mouth and nose with a handkerchief or tissue when you cough or sneeze
- Throw away used tissues immediately – germs can live for several hours after they leave your nose or mouth
- Wash your hands regularly to avoid transferring germs to other people or objects
A healthy lifestyle can also help prevent pneumonia. For example, you should avoid smoking as it damages your lungs and increases the chance of infection. Excessive and prolonged alcohol misuse also weakens your lungs’ natural defenses against infections, making you more vulnerable to pneumonia.
People at high risk of pneumonia should be offered the pneumococcal vaccine and flu vaccine.
What To Do When You Have Pneumonia Symptoms
Your doctor may be able to diagnose pneumonia by asking about your symptoms and examining your chest. Further tests may be needed in some cases.
To help make a diagnosis, your doctor may ask you:
- Whether you feel breathless or you’re breathing faster than usual
- How long you’ve had your cough, and whether you’re coughing up mucus and what color it is
- If the pain in your chest is worse when you breathe in or out
Your doctor may also take your temperature and listen to your chest and back with a stethoscope to check for any crackling or rattling sounds. They may also listen to your chest by tapping it. Lungs filled with fluid produce a different sound from normal healthy lungs.
If you have mild pneumonia, you probably won’t need to have a chest X-ray or any other tests. You may need a chest X-ray or other tests, such as a sputum (mucus) test or blood tests, if your symptoms haven’t improved within 48 hours of starting treatment.