What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a type of infection either in one or both lungs. The infection is mainly caused due to bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Bacterial pneumonia is considered to be common among adults.
Pneumonia causes inflammation in the lungs and the air sacs called as alveoli. When a person has pneumonia, the alveoli are filled with fluid or pus, making it hard for the individual to breathe.
There are more than 30 causes of pneumonia and they are usually brought about by a respiratory infection. Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, Mycoplasma, or exposure to toxic chemicals. It is an infection that can either affect both lungs or just one causing inflammation in the alveoli.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
The symptoms of pneumonia may vary on each individual. Some are mild in nature but some can also be life-threatening to others. The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:
- A cough that produces phlegm (mucus)
- Having fever, sweating, and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Chest pain when breathing or coughing
Other symptoms depend on the severity of the infection. Symptoms of pneumonia also depend on an individual's age and general health.
- Viral pneumonia has flu-like symptoms such as wheezing. High fever may occur in 12-36 hours.
- Bacterial pneumonia also causes high fever up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It can also cause confusion, profuse sweating, and bluish lips and nails.
- Children under 5 years of age may experience fast breathing.
- Infants may experience vomiting, lack of energy, and appetite loss.
- Older people may have a low body temperature, especially those who have weak immune systems.
Different Types of Pneumonia
The types of pneumonia are mainly classified by the type of pathogenic microorganism that causes the infection as well as where and how the infection was acquired.
Classification according to its causative agent:
- Bacterial Pneumonia - is usually caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae. Chlamydophila pneumonia and Legionella pneumophila can also cause bacterial pneumonia.
- Viral Pneumonia - respiratory viruses can cause pneumonia, especially in young kids and elderly people. Viral pneumonia is mild in nature and cannot last long.
- Mycoplasma Pneumonia - Mycoplasma organisms are bacteria but without cell walls. For this reason, mycoplasmas are resistant to beta-lactam antibiotics such as penicillin. They are also resistant to other types of antibiotics, which target the cell wall. Mycoplasmas can cause pneumonia to older children or young adults.
- Fungal Pneumonia - In this type of pneumonia, fungi can be inhaled through soil contaminated with bird droppings. It certainly causes pneumonia in people with chronic diseases. Fungal pneumonia is also called as pneumocystispneumonia (PCP). It usually affects immunocompromised individuals.
Classification according to where the infection was acquired:
- Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP) - Patients who are admitted for other medical conditions could get bacterial pneumonia during their hospital stay. It is a serious type of disease because bacteria would have a higher resistance power.
- Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP) - This type of pneumonia is acquired outside of hospitals and other clinical settings.
Classification according to how the infection was acquired:
- Aspiration Pneumonia - Normally, saliva, liquids, or foods are swallowed into your esophagus and stomach. However, when these elements are breathed into your airways or lungs, it can lead to a condition called as aspiration pneumonia.
Is pneumonia contagious?
Both viral and bacterial types of pneumonia can easily spread via inhalation of contaminated airborne droplets. It can be spread through a sneeze or a cough. However, if an individual acquires fungal pneumonia from the environment, then the infection cannot be transmitted from one person to another.
Risk Factors for Pneumonia
Anybody can get pneumonia. However, there are some people who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. The risk factors for pneumonia include the following:
- Other serious illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes
- Cigarette smoking
- Viral respiratory infections such as influenza or a simple cold
- Chronic lung diseases such as COPD, bronchiectasis, or cystic fibrosis
- A weakened immune system brought about by illnesses or certain medications
- Frequent exposure to harmful chemicals or toxic fumes
- Recent surgery or trauma can weaken the body due to the heavy medication that follows after the procedure, making the body extremely susceptible to contracting new infections.
- Age is a big factor. Children under the age of 2 are at a higher risk of contracting pneumonia. Their immune system is still developing and is not strong enough to fight off serious infections. On the other hand, adults over the age of 65 may have weaker immune systems and are more prone to infections. These two age groups may need special care to avoid other health complications from occurring.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can be mild or severe depending on a number of factors:
- Which organism is causing the infection? Is it fungal, bacterial, and viral?
- Children and the elderly tend to experience more serious symptoms than adults.
- The general health condition of the body at the time of infection will determine how it handles the symptoms.
- The cause of inflammation.
Here are the general signs and symptoms of pneumonia that you should look out for:
- Severe coughing that produces yellow, greenish, or bloody mucus should be examined. You should see a doctor to get tested for pneumonia in this case.
- Experiencing shortness of breath when performing your usual daily activities that are otherwise easy to do is a sign of pneumonia.
- Sharp chest pains that get worse when breathing or coughing
- Experiencing sudden and unexpected cold shivers
- High fever
- Frequent headaches
- Loss of appetite
- Fatigue or general body weakness
- Feeling nauseated
- Severe diarrhea
- Excessive sweating
- Confusion and mental imbalance, especially among the elderly
Bacterial pneumonia can sometimes show different symptoms from viral pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia can increase the body temperature up to 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The infection causes extreme sweating and increases pulse and breathing rates. A lack of oxygen in the blood will give the lips and nail beds a bluish color.
In the case of viral pneumonia, its symptoms are similar to influenza. If infected with viral pneumonia, you may experience headaches, dry cough, fever, muscle weakness, and body pain. More severe symptoms will be experienced after 12-36 hours. Symptoms may include a expelling a bloody mucus, high fever, and increasing breathlessness, among others.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
The doctor will ask you questions about your condition and when the initial symptoms occurred. He will also make use of a stethoscope to listen to your lungs and will conduct a physical examination. You will also be asked about your medical history during the checkup.
The doctor can also request for a chest X-ray to identify your lung condition. The doctor may also ask you to take other examinations depending on the severity of your disease. The doctor may ask for the following tests:
- Blood test - This test will definitely confirm an active infection, but will not be able to identify the exact cause.
- Sputum test - The test requires a sputum sample to find out what causes your infection.
- Pulse oximetry - Uses a pulse oximeter, which can rapidly detect oxygen levels in the blood.
- Urine antigen test - It is urine test that can identify both Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila.
- CT scan - It is a useful test for getting a clear picture of the lungs and the surrounding area.
- Fluid sample - If your doctor suspects that there is fluid in your chest's pleural space, he may ask to take a fluid sample using a needle placed between your ribs to find out more about the infection.
In most cases, pneumonia can be successfully diagnosed and treated. However, it is not unusual for some cases to develop complications. Here are some of the complications that can be experienced:
- Bacteremia and septic shock: Bacteremia is a condition where bacteria are present in the bloodstream, leading to septic shock. It happens when pneumonia-causing bacteria in the lungs enter the bloodstream. It becomes a life-threatening complication if not given immediate and special medical attention.
- Pleural effusions, pleurisy, and empyema: This complication can occur if pneumonia is not given the required treatment or doesn’t get any medical attention at all. The pleura is a membrane consisting of two thin layers. One of the layers covers the lungs from the outside, while the other is found inside the chest cavity. This complication involves the irritation and inflammation of these two layers making breathing a very painful process. The space between the two layers is called the pleural space and is usually filled with fluid. If this fluid becomes infected, the condition is called empyema. The patient may need to get the fluid removed through a chest tube or surgery.
- Lung abscesses: It happens when pus is collected in the infected area of the lungs. This complication is normally solved by antibiotics. However, drainage with needles or surgery may be required in some cases.
- Renal failure: Extreme pneumonia can cause the kidney to stop functioning properly.
- Respiratory failure: The respiratory system can fail if pneumonia is left untreated.
Despite all the signs and symptoms, there is a type of pneumonia that shows little or no signs at all. This type of pneumonia is usually referred to as walking pneumonia or atypical pneumonia because it’s different from the other serious typical cases of pneumonia.
Walking pneumonia is caused by bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Anyone can get infected by pneumonia despite age but it's common in the military, especially recruits, in schools, and middle-aged adults. It is contagious and anyone who comes into contact with the droplets of an infected person can easily contract pneumonia. People who spend most of their days in crowded places are at a higher risk of getting the infection.
These infections can occur at any time of the year without any particular pattern. However, most cases happen during the summer and fall seasons. Research has also shown that it spreads very slowly and it takes prolonged close contact with the infected person to get infected. However, according to researchers, there is an outbreak of walking pneumonia after every four to eight years. During this outbreak period, there are walking pneumonia cases in every two standard pneumonia diagnoses.
Symptoms of walking pneumonia appear slowly and can take up to 25 days to manifest after exposure. It can take a period of up to four days to develop into noticeable signs. Here are some of the signs that can be experienced:
- Violent spasms of a cough that produces little or no mucus
- Mild chills and fever
- Sore throat
- Persistent body weakness that tends to last longer than other symptoms
- Some people may also have a skin rash, anemia, or ear infection along with walking pneumonia
Antibiotics are enough to control walking pneumonia. Its symptoms can even clear on their own if they are not very serious. Whatever the case, it is still a serious infection that deserves proper medical attention. Visit a doctor or any other healthcare practitioner if you notice any signs and symptoms of pneumonia.
How is pneumonia treated?
Treatment for pneumonia mainly depends on the type of pneumonia, the state of the patient’s health, and the severity of the disease.
Antibiotic, antiviral, and antifungal drugs are useful in treating the disease. Moreover, these medications are prescribed depending on the condition of the patient. Bacterial pneumonia can be effectively treated at home with oral antibiotics.
Patients can also recover by taking their medicines and following their doctor's advice at home. The patients should:
- Take the medications as prescribed
- Take sufficient rest
- Drink plenty of fluids
- Take the necessary time to recover
Need for Hospitalization
Hospitalization may be necessary for people with severe pneumonia symptoms, especially if they have other underlying health problems. Doctors and hospital care can help pneumonia patients get back on track. Aside from intravenous medications, the person will be kept under observation to check for vital signs such as heart rate, temperature, and breathing.
You can get vaccinated against different bacterial strains of pneumonia. The pneumonia vaccine can be most useful for patients dealing with the infection. The vaccine is even useful in preventing early pneumonia infections.
Pneumonia needs to be controlled using a proper course of medication. Follow your doctor's prescription coupled with a healthy diet to effectively recover from the infection.