What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the microscopic air sacs known as alveoli. It is usually caused by infection with viruses or bacteria and less commonly by other microorganisms, certain medications and conditions such as autoimmune diseases.
How do I know if I have pneumonia?
Pneumonia often seems like a cold or the flu, and so can easily be overlooked. However, it is usually more persistent and the symptoms are more severe. The symptoms include:
- Coughing (dry or with phlegm);
- Fatigue, aches, joint pain;
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills;
- Lower body temperature;
- Loss of appetite;
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea;
- Shortness of breath.
See your doctor immediately if you have any of these other symptoms of pneumonia:
- Difficulty breathing;
- Skin with bluish tone (from lack of oxygen);
- Chest pain when you breathe or cough;
- Persistent fever of 102 F (39 C) or higher;
- Confusion or changes in mental awareness;
- High heart rate;
- Persistent cough, especially if you’re coughing up blood.
The diagnosis by the doctor is often based on the symptoms and physical examination. The doctor will listen for crackles, wheezing or abnormal breath sounds when listening to your chest with a stethoscope. Chest X-ray, blood tests, and culture of the sputum may help confirm the diagnosis.
Can you die from pneumonia?
Pneumonia affects approximately 450 million people globally (7% of the population) and results in about 4 million deaths per year. In developing countries, and among the very old, the very young, and the chronically ill, pneumonia remains a leading cause of death.
The severity of your pneumonia usually depends on:
- The cause of your inflammation;
- The type of organism causing your infection;
- Your age;
- Your general health;
- The presence of certain risk factors, including cystic fibrosis, COPD, asthma, diabetes, heart failure, a history of smoking, a poor ability to cough such as following a stroke, or a weak immune system.
Media presentation about pneumonia
What causes pneumonia?
Pneumonia can classified according to the types of germs that cause it. The major types are:
Bacterial pneumonia can affect anyone at any age. It can develop on its own or after a serious cold or flu. The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae.
Some of the viruses that cause colds and the flu can cause pneumonia, especially in young children and the elderly. This type of pneumonia is usually not serious and lasts a short time, but it can be severe or fatal in some cases.
Mycoplasma organisms are not viruses or bacteria, but they have traits common to both. They typically produce milder symptoms than do other types of pneumonia. “Walking pneumonia” is an informal name given to this type of pneumonia, because it isn’t severe enough to require bed rest.
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.
Other types of pneumonia
Some types of pneumonia affect immune-compromised individuals. Tuberculosis and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) generally affect people with suppressed immune systems, such as those who have AIDS. Pneumonia can be caused by inhaling food, dust, liquid, or gas.
Where do you get pneumonia?
Pneumonia can also be classified according to where you got the infection:
Community-acquired pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. It occurs outside of hospitals or other health care facilities. It may be caused by bacteria, viruses, mycoplasma, or fungi.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia can be serious because the bacteria causing it may be more resistant to antibiotics and because the people who get it are already sick. People who are on breathing machines (ventilators), often used in intensive care units, are at higher risk of this type of pneumonia.
Health care-acquired pneumonia
Health care-acquired pneumonia is a bacterial infection that occurs in people who live in long-term care facilities or who receive care in outpatient clinics, including kidney dialysis centers. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, health care-acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria that are more resistant to antibiotics.
Sometimes we inhale food, drink, vomit or saliva into our lungs. Most healthy people simply cough up the offending substance. Aspiration pneumonia can occur when the substance is not ejected from the lungs. This is more likely if something disturbs your normal gag reflex, such as a brain injury or swallowing problem, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
How is pneumonia treated?
The type of treatment prescribed for pneumonia mostly depends on what type of pneumonia is present, as well as how severe it is. In many cases, pneumonia can be treated at home.
Treating Bacterial Pneumonia
Antibiotics are used to treat this type of pneumonia. Antibiotics should be taken as directed. If you stop taking the antibiotics before treatment is complete, the pneumonia may return. Most people will improve after one to three days of treatment.
Treating Viral Pneumonia
Antibiotics are useless if a virus is the cause of pneumonia. However, certain antiviral drugs can help treat the condition. Symptoms usually clear within one to three weeks.
There are several things you can do to ensure a rapid recovery and help alleviate the symptoms of pneumonia:
- Ensure that you take all the prescribed medication in the required doses until it is gone. Do not stop taking it just because you start to feel better.
- Do not take cough suppressant. You need to cough to get rid of mucus from your lungs. Your doctor may suggest that you take an expectorant to help loosen the mucus.
- Inhale warm wet air over a container of hot water, or place a warm, wet washcloth loosely over your nose and mouth to help open up your airways.
- Take a couple of deep breaths two or three times every hour. to help open up your lungs.
- Tap your chest gently a few times a day while lying with your head lower than your chest. This helps bring up mucus from the lungs so that you can cough it out.
- Drink plenty of liquids each day. You may need to consider drinking hydration beverages.
- Do not drink alcohol.
- Get plenty of rest when you go home. If you have trouble sleeping at night, take naps during the day.
With treatment, most people improve within 2 weeks. Older adults or very sick people may need longer treatment.