There are several types of pneumonia that vary in their degree of seriousness. Pneumonia caused by a viral infection can make people feel very sick with fever, cough, and tiredness. However, viral pneumonia tends to go away on its own after some time.
A "walking pneumonia" is a mild case of pneumonia that is not caused by the typical pneumonia-causing bacteria. Walking pneumonia will go away on its own over a period of time, causing only mild discomforts with symptoms of a cold and cough. The immune system of the body fights this type of pneumonia, which usually does not require a hospital confinement or bed rest.
Pneumonia caused by bacterial infection, however, can make a person very sick. If bacterial pneumonia is not treated, bacteria can enter the circulatory system, causing sepsis, a serious systemic infection that affects the whole body. Sepsis is a serious, life-threatening condition with potentially fatal outcomes. Moreover, if the antibiotic medication is not given on time, bacterial pneumonia may cause a blood infection or even lung abscesses. Either of these conditions is considered a life-threatening illness that requires immediate medical attention.
Since a case of pneumonia might be of the serious bacterial type, anyone who is experiencing and exhibiting the symptoms of pneumonia should be evaluated by a doctor on high priority.
The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to severe depending on its type. Its usual symptoms include:
Pneumonia could lead to life-threatening complications for those who smoke, have a heart or lung disease, or are above 65 years old. Anyone who falls under any of these categories should immediately see a doctor when the symptoms of pneumonia are present.
A diagnosis of pneumonia is done by a doctor through physical examination. A chest X-ray helps the doctor to determine how wide the infection has spread. Blood and mucus tests will help the doctor tell whether it is bacteria, a virus, or a fungal microorganism that is causing the infection.
Pneumonia can be successfully treated without having complications. However, in some patients, complications can still happen, especially those who belong to high-risk groups. Complications can either be pneumonia-related or drug-related (the body’s reaction to the administered drug for pneumonia). Pneumonia can also be due to the patient’s underlying chronic conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and congestive heart failure.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial pneumonia. With oral antibiotic treatment, it is important to strictly adhere to the prescribed course. The reason is that if the course of the antibiotic treatment is not followed properly, some bacteria might remain alive in the body. There would then be the possibility of pneumonia resurfacing. Not completing the course of treatment also increases one's risk of antibiotic resistance.
Over-the-counter medications and pain relievers are available for viral pneumonia. However, a doctor should be contacted before taking any cough suppressants. Fungal pneumonia is treated with antifungal medicines.
Severe pneumonia is treated by giving antibiotics intravenously. Patients will most likely be hospitalized to monitor their condition and help them recover faster.
Besides taking the prescribed medications, there are a few things that you can do to help you achieve a faster recovery from pneumonia. They include:
- Getting a lot of rest, as it helps your body fight the infection.
- Drinking plenty of fluids, as this keeps the body from being dehydrated and also loosens the mucus in the lungs.
- Avoiding alcohol, smoking, and drugs
- One can also use a cool mist humidifier to loosen the mucus.
Some of the common complications due to pneumonia are:
- Fluid accumulation – happens when fluid accumulates between the pleura (covering of the lungs) and the inner lining of the chest wall. This fluid accumulation is called as a “pleural effusion”. If the fluid becomes infected as a result of pneumonia, a chest tube or surgery may be needed to drain the fluid.
- Abscess – is a collection of pus in the area that is infected with pneumonia. Abscesses are usually treated using antibiotics. The surgical removal of abscesses can also be done in rare cases.
- Bacteremia – occurs when the infection spreads from the lungs to the bloodstream. Bacteremia is considered as a serious complication since it can spread quickly through the bloodstream and to other organs of the body. It can also cause the affected person's blood pressure to become dangerously low.
- Death – most people successfully recover from pneumonia. However, the lung infection can also be fatal at times. The 30-day mortality rate of patients who are admitted to a general medical ward is approximately 5 to 10 percent. However, for those patients with severe lung infections in the intensive care unit (ICU), the risk is as high as 30 percent.
- Cardiovascular events – some studies have shown that patients who have had pneumonia are at an increased risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack during recovery from pneumonia. This risk persists for several years after the episode of pneumonia.
Is it possible to prevent pneumonia?
Yes, it is absolutely possible to prevent pneumonia. Here are few ways to do it:
Pneumonia usually occurs after a case of flu. Annual flu shots can be taken to reduce the risk. While flu vaccinations cannot protect all people from all the possible types of flu, it does cover the most important and severe strains of the flu virus.
There are two types of vaccines to prevent pneumonia. However, they cannot keep one safe from all the types of pneumonia.
- Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV): It is given to children below 5 years of age. It does not prevent all types of pneumonia, but it reduces the risk of developing a severe type of pneumonia. Note that the vaccine does have a few side effects such as mild fever, irritability, tenderness and redness of the site of injection, and loss of appetite.
- Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine (PPSV): It is recommended for children above 2 years of age as well as adults who are at high risk of contracting pneumonia. People with weak immune systems are usually recommended for vaccination. The side effects of the vaccine are muscle soreness, mild flu, as well as tenderness and redness at the site of injection.
Wash your hands thoroughly before and after meals. Hands can frequently come in contact with germs. Hence, it is important that they are clean and washed with antibacterial soap.
3. Avoid smoking as it affects the lungs
When you have weak lungs due to smoking, your body will no longer have the capacity to fight pneumonia.
4. Healthy lifestyle
Eating a nutritious diet, having regular exercise, and adequate sleep can help in building up your immune system.
It is important to observe the above guidelines to help avoid getting pneumonia. Those in high-risk groups, in particular, should observe the preventive measures as well.