What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a respiratory infection that causes inflammation of the lungs.  Air sacs in both lungs or in only one can become inflamed and fill with fluid. This results in a cough that has phlegm.  Chills, difficulty breathing and fever can accompany this infection.

Pneumonia is usually caused by fungi, bacteria, and viruses.  It can be quite mild or it can be very dangerous.  Young children and infants and seniors and people who have weakened immune systems are most vulnerable to the worst side effects.

What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

Factors that cause pneumonia will affect how mild or severe it is and the type of symptoms that occur.

Overall health and age can also determine how severe symptoms are.  They symptoms mimic those of the flu but last longer.  They can include coughing (with or without phlegm), tiredness, chills and fever, chest pain when breathing or coughing, difficulty breathing, vomiting, lower body temperature than normal, and diarrhea.

Pneumonia Causes

Many different bacteria and viruses, the most common of which are in the air we breathe, can cause pneumonia. Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common, and is caused by bacteria, viruses, bacteria-like organisms, and fungi.

Bacteria can cause pneumonia on its own or after the cold or flu. The most common cause of pneumonia in children under the age of five are viruses. Usually, this form of pneumonia is mild, but can become serious. Bacteria-like organisms, such as mycoplasma pneumonia also cause pneumonia, and usually the symptoms aren’t as intense since they aren’t severe enough to require bed rest. Fungi cause pneumonia most often in people suffering from weakened immune systems or chronic health problems.

Hospital-acquired pneumonia usually develops after an extended stay at a hospital. This type of pneumonia can be serious because the bacteria that causes it can be more resistant to antibiotics. Those on ventilators are at a higher risk of pneumonia. Other types of pneumonia, like aspiration pneumonia and health care-acquired pneumonia are caused by bacterial infections in health care facilities and occur when you inhale food, drink, saliva or vomit into your lungs.

How is Pneumonia Treated?

Typically, treatments for pneumonia focus on preventing complications and then curing the infection.  Many people are able to be treated at home. Antibiotics treat bacterial pneumonia and are usually the first course of treatment, even before the cause is determined. Cough medicine helps relieve the symptom of coughing and helps get more rest.  Pain or fever relievers may be taken as needed.

Hospitalization is not usually required unless the patient is older than 65 or very young.  If pneumonia is very severe or not detected early enough the kidney may not function properly, which would be reason to be hospitalized.  Very low blood pressure, extreme rapid breathing or inability to breathe properly, or a very low body temperature or blood pressure are other reasons that you may have to stay in a hospital.

Pneumonia Prevention

You can prevent pneumonia by quitting smoking and avoiding people that may have infections like the common cold, flu or other respiratory tract infections. Washing your hands frequently to avoid the spread of infection is another way to prevent pneumonia. You can get your children routinely vaccinated by getting them the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV). While this vaccine might not prevent pneumonia, it does prevent some of the serious complications associated with it, such as septicemia or bacteremia (infections throughout the body and in the bloodstream).

There are other vaccines that can prevent diseases that could lead to pneumonia, such as the chickenpox vaccine, the flu vaccine, and the measles vaccine.