Pneumonia is the inflammation of the tissues of the lungs. Its usually caused by bacteria but studies have confirmed it can also be caused by a virus and fungi.
If a person is infected, the air sacs become filled with fluid or pus, causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing.
Pneumonia can be mild or 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.
Symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Chest pain usually precipitated by cough or when you breathe
- Cough which usually produces phlegm
- Coughing up blood(haemoptysis)
- Difficulty breathing
- loss of appetite
- rapid heartbeat/pulse
- Nausea and or vomiting
Neonates and infants may show no sign or may exhibit these:
- difficulty breathing
- difficulty eating
See your GP if you feel unwell and you have typical symptoms of pneumonia.
A Bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. Many different types of bacteria, including Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus, can also cause pneumonia, as well as viruses and, more rarely, fungi.
As well as bacterial pneumonia, other types include:
- Aspiration pneumonia– caused by breathing in vomit, a foreign object, such as a peanut, or a harmful substance, such as smoke or a chemical
- Bacteria-like organisms. Mycoplasma pneumoniae also can cause pneumonia. It typically produces milder symptoms than do other types of pneumonia. Walking pneumonia is an informal name given to this type of pneumonia.
- Viruses. Some of the viruses that cause colds and the flu can cause pneumonia. Viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in children younger than 5 years and are usually mild.
- Fungi. This type of pneumonia is most common in people with chronic health problems or weakened immune systems, and in people who have inhaled large doses of the organisms. The fungi that cause it can be found in soil or bird droppings and vary depending upon geographic location.
- hospital-acquired pneumonia– pneumonia that develops in a hospital while being treated for another condition or having an operation; people in intensive care on breathing machines are particularly at risk of developing ventilator-associated pneumonia
Pneumonia can affect anyone. But the following groups have an increased risk of developing pneumonia:
- Children who are 2 years old or younger
- elderly people who are age 65 or older
- people with other health conditions, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, or a heart, kidney or liver condition
- people who smoke
- people with a weakened immune system – for example, as a result of a recent illness, such as flu, having HIV or AIDS, having chemotherapy, or taking medication following an organ transplant
Your doctor may be able to diagnose by asking about your symptoms and examining your chest, including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal bubbling or crackling sounds. Further tests may be needed in some cases.
Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose because it shares many symptoms with other conditions, such as the common cold, bronchitis and asthma.
If pneumonia is suspected, your doctor may recommend the following tests:
- Blood tests. Blood tests are used to confirm an infection and to try to identify the type of organism causing the infection. However, precise identification isn’t always possible.
- Sputum test. A sample of fluid from your lungs (sputum) is taken after a deep cough and analyzed to help pinpoint the cause of the infection
- Chest X-ray. This helps your doctor diagnose pneumonia and determine the extent and location of the infection. However, it can’t tell your doctor what kind of germ is causing the infection.
- Pulse oximetry. This measures the oxygen level in your blood. Pneumonia can prevent your lungs from moving enough oxygen into your bloodstream.
Additional tests may be ordered by your doctor if you’re older than age 65, are in the hospital, or have serious symptoms or health conditions. These may include:
- CT scan. If your pneumonia isn’t clearing as quickly as expected, your doctor may recommend a chest CT scan to obtain a more detailed image of your lungs.
- Pleural fluid culture. A fluid sample is taken by putting a needle between your ribs from the pleural area and analyzed to help determine the type of infection.
Mild pneumonia can usually be treated at home by:
- taking antibiotics
- Cough medicine. This medicine may be used to calm your cough so that you can rest. Because coughing helps loosen and move fluid from your lungs, it’s a good idea not to eliminate your cough completely.
- Fever reducers/pain relievers. You may take these as needed for fever and discomfort. These include drugs such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB, others) and acetaminophen (Tylenol, others).
- getting plenty of rest
- drinking plenty of fluids
You may need to be hospitalized if:
- You are older than age 65
- You are confused about time, people or places
- Your kidney function has declined
- Your systolic blood pressure is below 90 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) or your diastolic blood pressure is 60 mm Hg or below
- Your breathing is rapid (30 breaths or more a minute)
- You need breathing assistance
- Your temperature is below normal
- Your heart rate is below 50 or above 100 They are younger than age 2 months
- They are lethargic or excessively sleepy
- They have trouble breathing
- They have low blood oxygen levels
- They appear dehydrated
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.
Even with treatment, some people, especially those in high-risk groups, may experience complications, including:
- Lung abscess. An abscess occurs if pus forms in a cavity in the lung. An abscess is usually treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, surgery or drainage with a long needle or tube placed into the abscess is needed to remove the pus.
- Bacteria in the bloodstream (bacteremia). Bacteria that enter the bloodstream from your lungs can spread the infection to other organs, potentially causing organ failure.
- Fluid accumulation around the lungs (pleural effusion). Pneumonia may cause fluid to build up in the thin space between layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity (pleura). If the fluid becomes infected, you may need to have it drained through a chest tube or removed with surgery.
- Difficulty breathing. If your infection is severe or you have chronic underlying lung diseases, you may have trouble breathing in enough oxygen. You may need to be hospitalized and use a breathing machine (ventilator) while your lung heals
Sources: Mayoclinic.org and nhs.uk