Healthy Living

Pneumonia: An Overview of the Disease

Pneumonia: An Overview of the Disease

Key Takeaways

  • Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi.
  • The flu virus causing viral pneumonia can sometimes be severe or fatal.
  • Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type, which can be cured easily if treatment is started early.

What is pneumonia?    

Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lung’s air sacs. It is a serious lung infection that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi.

Your lungs

You have two lungs. Each lung has separate sections called lobes. Normally, as you breathe, air moves freely through your trachea (wind pipe), then through the large tubes called bronchi, and small tubes called bronchioles. Finally, air passes into tiny sacs called alveoli. When you breathe in, each air sac inflates like a small balloon and when you breathe out it deflates. These air sacs are surrounded by capillaries through which blood flows. The oxygen in your air sacs is exchanged with carbon dioxide in the blood via diffusion. The carbon dioxide released to the air sacs will be then exhaled out.

How can you get pneumonia?

Normally, all the germs in the air you breathe are trapped in the mucous layer lining your trachea, bronchi, and bronchioles. The hair-like structures called cilia constantly sweeps them upwards to your throat and the germs are expelled out by coughing.

Sometimes, the germs pass your mucous lining and cilia and enter your alveoli. Normally, cells from your immune system attack these germs, which keep them from making you sick. 

If your immune system is weakened due to age, illness, or fatigue, pneumonia-causing germs can overwhelm your immune cells and begin to multiply. Your bronchioles and alveoli get inflamed as your immune system attacks the multiplying germs. Due to the inflammation, the alveoli are filled with fluid, making it difficult for your body to get the oxygen it needs.

Pneumonia facts

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Coughing
  • Fever and chills
  • Confusion
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue

What are the complications?

General complications

  • Respiratory failure – This happens when your breathing becomes so difficult that you need a machine called a ventilator to help you breath.
  • Bacteremia – happens when the bacteria multiplying in your alveoli manage to enter your bloodstream. They may travel to infect other organs.

Local complications

  • Lung abscess – In some cases of pneumonia, large collections of fluid and pus called an abscess may form inside one of your lungs.
  • Empyema – An abscess that forms around the outside your lungs.
  • Pleural effusion – This happens when some of the fluid enters the pleural cavity surrounding your lungs.

What is the treatment?

  • Antibiotics are given if the cause is bacterial.
  • Antiviral drugs are given if the cause is viral.
  • Antifungal medication if it is a fungal case.
  • If you have severe pneumonia, you may be admitted to the hospital, and given oxygen and intravenous antibiotics.
  • A simple analgesic such as paracetamol may be given for pain.

Is pneumonia deadly?

Pneumonia is usually not serious and lasts only for a short period. Bacterial pneumonia, which is the most common type, can be cured easily if treatment is started early. However, the flu virus causing viral pneumonia can sometimes be severe or fatal.