Pneumonia is a type of infection that leads to lung inflammation. Viruses, fungi and bacteria are the leading sources of pneumonia.
Viral pneumonia is a form of the virus that results in the flu and cold. When the viruses enter your lungs, they lead to swelling and oxygen flow disruption in the lungs.
Most people are affected by pneumonia at one point, and it is a severe condition. The leading cause of pneumonia is the flu. According to research, pneumonia alongside the flu is ranked eighth in causes of death in North America annually.
Since children and the elderly are more prone to infections, they have higher chances of developing pneumonia. Pregnant women and individuals with weak immune systems are also at risk.
Viral pneumonia can vary in severity and mostly disappears within few weeks in the majority of cases. Severe viral pneumonia can be fatal.
Causes of viral pneumonia
The elderly and small children are at a higher risk for contracting viral pneumonia. The reason for this, is that their immune systems are not strong enough to battle the virus.
One of the following viruses can lead to viral pneumonia:
- Respiratory syncytial virus
Severe viral pneumonia can develop in people with weak immune systems like:
- Babies born prematurely
- Children suffering from lung and heart ailments
- HIV positive people
- Individuals undergoing chemotherapy for the treatment of cancer or other medicines that make the immune system weak
- Individuals who have undergone an organ transplant
Viral pneumonia symptoms
Initially, the symptoms may not be serious and they mostly develop gradually.
Common viral pneumonia symptoms include:
- A lot of sweating and damp skin
- Tiredness, reduced energy and lack of appetite
- Sharp chest pain
Tests for viral pneumonia
A physical evaluation is normally conducted by your doctor.
A chest x-ray is done if you are suspected to have pneumonia. Other tests include the following:
- Blood cultures
- Sputum culture
- CBC (complete blood count)
- Nasal swab test to look for viruses like the flu
- Chest CT scan
- Open lung biopsy
If your immune system is weak, you have higher chances of getting viral pneumonia. Other health conditions that make you susceptible to viral pneumonia include:
- Cancer or other ailments that use chemotherapy for treatment
- Heart disorder
- Artery disorder
- Kidney or liver disease
- A recent infection of the upper respiratory like the flu or cold
- Nausea and vomiting
- A viral infection that is recent
How is viral pneumonia diagnosed?
Your level of oxygen, pulse and blood pressure will all be checked by your doctor. The doctor will also listen to the lungs and the heart. He or she will inquire about any vaccinations you might have received. If you have been in contact with a sick person or if you recently traveled, you need to inform your doctor. One of the following may also be required:
- A blood test to look for the virus that may be the source of your viral pneumonia
- A CT scan or an x-ray to look for infection signs like fluid in the lungs or swelling
- A mucus culture to look for other infections and determine which virus is responsible your condition. To get a sample of mucus, the doctor may swap the inside of the nose or your throat. You may also be told to cough out mucus.
Treatment for viral pneumonia
Treating viral pneumonia has two goals. It will assist in easing its symptoms and eliminating the infection itself. Your doctor may recommend a number of things to address the signs and symptoms.
Viral pneumonia cannot be treated by antibiotics. Only influenza pneumonia and certain pneumonia resulting from herpes can be treated with antiviral medicines. If the infection is diagnosed early, antiviral medication may be prescribed. Other treatments include:
- Corticosteroid medications
- Increase of fluids
- Humidified air use
To prevent dehydration, you may be required to stay in the hospital and if the condition is severe, to assist in breathing.
Individuals have higher chances of hospital admission if they:
- Are children or aged 65 and above
- Cannot eat, take care of themselves or drink
- Are suffering from other severe medical conditions like kidney or heart diseases
- Have been using antibiotics while at home and there is no improvement.
- Their symptoms are serious
Majority of people can treat their viral pneumonia at home. The following can be done if so:
- Use of aspirin to regulate the fever, NSAIDs like naproxen or ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Children should not be given aspirin
- Consult with your doctor before taking cough medications since they make coughing up of sputum difficult
- To loosen secretions and bring phlegm, drink plenty of fluids
- Rest frequently
- To minimize fever, cough and body aches, over-the-counter medications can be taken
How to prevent viral pneumonia
Frequently wash your hands, particularly after visiting the bathroom, blowing the nose, changing a diaper or prior to preparing and eating food. Avoid smoking since tobacco destroys the ability of the lungs to defend from infection. Pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines in the elderly, children, and individuals suffering from asthma, diabetes, HIV, emphysema, Cancer or other disorders that are chronic.
- To prevent viral pneumonia in babies below two years of age from respiratory syncytial virus, palivizumab is given.
- Pneumonia and other infections resulting from influenza virus can be prevented by the flu vaccine. To prevent new virus strains, the flu vaccine must be administered annually.
- Avoid crowded places if you have a weak immune system. Ask people who are visiting and having a cold to put on a mask.
The flu vaccine
Viral pneumonia can be directly caused by the flu virus. Anyone above the age of six months old should receive the seasonal flu vaccine. However, individuals who react to flu vaccines and those who have suffered from Guillain-Barre syndrome should not receive the vaccine.
The flu vaccine should not be given to sick people but instead, they should wait until they get well to receive it.
Potential complications of viral pneumonia
A severe infection can result to liver failure, respiratory failure and heart failure. In some cases, immediately after viral pneumonia, bacterial infections can develop which may result to severe types of pneumonia.
The time for recovery is determined by the state of your health before you developed viral pneumonia. A young adult who is healthy will take a shorter time to recover than individuals of other ages. Majority of the patients get well within 1 to 3 weeks.
If you suspect you have viral pneumonia, visit your physician. Receiving the seasonal flu vaccine and maintaining good hygiene are the best methods when keeping viral pneumonia away.
- If your treatment was done at home, the doctor will request you to come back after 1-4 weeks for check-up
- When your symptoms get better, another chest X-ray may be conducted. Since certain forms of pneumonia resemble cancer, it is important to do a second x-ray to rule out that.
Majority of individuals recover quickly with no lung damage. You are more susceptible to complications if you are very young or old, if your immune system is weak or if you suffer from a chronic lung or heart disorder.