1 What is Pneumonia?

Lungs are a sensitive part of the body, and any foreign substance that attacks the lungs could cause infections that can become very hard to manage.

Pneumonia is one such infection that can impact one or both of the lungs, causing serious complications including breathing distress. 

Pneumonia facts

Pneumonia can cause cough with pus or phlegm, chills, fevers and difficulty in breathing because the air sacs may be filled with pus (purulent material or fluid).

The causes of pneumonia can be viruses, fungi or bacteria.

This disease can be mild to severe to fatal and can be serious for people older than age 65 or infants and young children, or people with weakened immune system or health problems.

2 Understanding pneumonia risks

Pneumonia can occur in any person, with or without a history of any illness or medical condition.

However, there are a number of factors that can put one at a relatively higher risk of acquiring the disease.

The following factors determine a higher risk for pneumonia:

  • People who have suffered a stroke or have swallowing troubles, or are bedridden, have higher chances of acquiring the pneumonia infection
  • Newborn babies and children up to 2 years of age are at a higher risk of pneumonia
  • The risk is also higher for adults who are 65 years or older
  • People suffering from a compromised immune system are also at a higher risk of pneumonia. This risk also extends to people who consume medicines that can impact immunity levels, like steroids, biologics, and other medicines for diseases such as cancer and HIV
  • A physical addiction, or over-consumption of substances like drugs, alcohol, or cigarettes could also increase one’s chances of acquiring the pneumonia infection
  • Underlying diseases like asthma, cystic fibrosis, or diabetes could also increase the chances of acquiring a pneumonia infection

3 Pneumonia symptoms

Depending on the factors like what type of germ is causing the infection, overall health, and your age, the signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe. The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can be similar to a flu or cold.

The symptoms could progress and develop very quickly in some people, while for some others, symptoms may be dormant until the condition progresses to an extent beyond repair. 

The symptoms are: 

Sometimes newborns and infants may not show symptoms, and sometimes they do. Older people age 65 and above sometimes experience a change in mental awareness.

Some symptoms of pneumonia can be an indication of a medical emergency, which may require hospitalization.

Immediate medical attention is advised if you have one or more of the below symptoms: 

  • Discoloration of the skin, with the skin acquiring a bluish tinge mainly due to lack of oxygen supply in the body
  • Throwing up blood or traces of blood in the mucus along with the cough
  • Heavy or distressed breathing
  • Very high grade temperature: Anything beyond 102.5°F is normally considered an emergency
  • Feeling a state of confusion or unable to remember things all of a sudden with severe impact
  • Increase heartbeat

Consult your doctor if:

  • You have a fever of 102 F (39 C) or persistent cough
  • You see symptoms in your child
  • You are an adult over 65
  • You are undergoing chemotherapy or taking medicines that suppresses the immune system
  • You have an underlying health condition or weakened immune system.

Pneumonia can be fatal for people with heart failure or chronic lung problems.

4 Causes and types of pneumonia

Germs can cause pneumonia and viruses. Pneumonia-causing bacteria are the most common in the air that we breathe. These germs sometimes can overpower your immune system even if you are in good shape.

Your body prevents these germs from going in to your lungs.

In general, there are four broad types of pneumonia that can be broken down into smaller sub-types. These include:

  1. Bacterial pneumonia: Bacterial pneumonia can be triggered in any person irrespective of their age. The infection can start off on its own or can be triggered by a severe bout of cold and flu. One of the most common causes associated with bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. The infection can also be triggered by Chlamoydophila pneumonia or Legionella pneumophila. These normally impact people with weaker immune systems that are already fighting other underlying medical conditions like AIDS or cancer.
  2. Viral pneumonia: In a majority of cases, a respiratory virus can trigger pneumonia particularly in small children and older adults. Viral pneumonia is in most cases not very serious and lasts for a much shorter period of time. However, certain flu viruses can also make the viral form of pneumonia very serious and sometimes even fatal. People suffering from heart or lung diseases, or pregnant women, are more susceptible to the severe form of viral pneumonia. Sometimes, there could also be bacterial attacks along with viral pneumonia that can lead to complications.
  3. Mycoplasma pneumonia: mycoplasma organisms do not fall under the classification of both viruses or bacteria, however they have characteristics of both the classes of germs. They are the smallest category of germs that trigger diseases affecting humans. The pneumonia caused by mycoplasmas is normally very mild and is mainly seen in teenagers and younger adults.
  4. Other types: There are a number of other types of pneumonia that mainly impact people with compromised immunity levels. Tuberculosis and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP) are two such types of pneumonia that affect people suffering from lower immunity levels due to diseases like AIDS. PCP is in fact treated as one of the first few symptoms for detecting HIV in people. Pneumonia can also be triggered by inhaling various foods, liquids, or gases that are laden with germs and fungi.

The types of pneumonia are further described below:

  • Community-acquired pneumonia that occurs outside of the hospital or health care facilities can be caused by bacteria. The most common is Streptococcus pneumonia that can affect one part (lobe) of your lung, which is also called lobar pneumonia
  • Bacteria-like organisms such as Mycoplasma pneumonia that has milder symptoms and needs bed rest
  • Viruses – The viruses contracted from the flu or cold are most common, especially in children below the age of 5
  • Fungi – This mostly occurs in people with chronic problems and a weakened immune system. This can be caused by substances such as bird droppings
  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia usually occurs in people who are staying in the hospital for other health conditions. This can be serious because the bacteria may be resistant to antibiotics
  • Aspiration pneumonia is when you inhale drink, food, saliva, or vomit into your lungs, which can disturb your normal gag reflex 

5 Diagnosing pneumonia

Consult your doctor if you show symptoms of pneumonia. He or she may refer you to a pulmonologist, who specializes in lung disease, to receive a confirmed diagnosis. Bring a family member or a close friend to accompany you to the hospital to support you. Before you go to your first appointment, write down any symptoms you are experiencing, and any medical conditions that you have, or have had in the past.

You can also write down a list of supplements, vitamins, and medications that you are taking as well as personal information, such as recent exposure to chemicals or toxins.

Some of the questions that you should ask your doctor include:

  1. What is causing my symptoms?
  2. What kind of tests do I need?
  3. What treatments do you recommend?
  4. Do I need to be hospitalized?
  5. Do I require restrictions in order to be treated?

Your doctor may ask:

  1. When did your symptoms start?
  2. Have you had pneumonia before?
  3. Are your symptoms occasional or continuous?
  4. How severe are they?
  5. Have you traveled or been exposed to chemicals or toxic substances?
  6. Have you been exposed to sick people?
  7. Do you smoke?
  8. How much alcohol do you consume?
  9. Have you had the pneumonia or flu before?

Avoid smoking, rest as often as you can, and drink plenty of fluids so your symptoms will not worsen.

First, your doctor will conduct a physical exam with the use of a stethoscope to listen to your breathing and lungs. Then, he may suggest some test such as:

  • Chest X-ray to look for the location and the severity of your condition
  • Blood tests to check for the confirmation of any other infection and determine what kind of organism it is
  • Pulse oximetry to monitor the oxygen level in your blood
  • Sputum test to test fluid from your lungs (sputum) when you cough 

If you are older than 65 or show much more serious symptoms than the average person, your doctor may run some additional tests such as:

  • Pleural fluid culture to determine the type of infection by putting a needle between your ribs
  • CT scan to see more detailed images of your lungs

6 Pneumonia treatment

To fully treat pneumonia, you must work to cure the infection and prevent future complications. For types such as community-acquired pneumonia, prescribed medications can help the patient go through treatment at home.

The treatments of pneumonia vary depending on the type, the severity, your age, and your overall physical health.

These include:

  • Antibiotics – Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial pneumonia. Do not take antibiotics if they are not recommended by your doctor. Antibiotics are not a cure-all for all types of pneumonia.
  • Fever reducers – Over-the-counter medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin IB) can help reduce pain and irritation as well as fever.
  • Cough medicine – This can be used to calm your cough and soothe your throat so that you will not have a hard time breathing and you can rest better.

You will likely need to be hospitalized if you:

  • Are older than 65
  • Have become confused with people, places, and time along with your pneumonia symptoms
  • Your vomiting and nausea are so severe that you cannot drink oral antibiotics
  • Have very low blood pressure
  • Need breathing assistance
  • Experience rapid breathing
  • Have a heart rate below 50 or higher than 100
  • Have a below-normal body temperature 

Your doctor may suggest transferal to the intensive care unit if your symptoms are severe that you need a ventilator.

Children may be hospitalized if they:

  • Are younger than 2 months
  • Have trouble breathing
  • Are excessively sleepy
  • Have lower temperature
  • Have low blood oxygen
  • Look dehydrated

7 Pneumonia prevention

You can prevent pneumonia by:

  • Getting vaccinated with pneumonia and flu vaccines
    • Making sure your children are vaccinated: There are vaccine for children younger than 2, and a different pneumonia vaccine for children 2-5 years of age who are at risk of pneumococcal disease. Doctors recommend flu vaccines for children older than 6 months
  • Practicing good hygiene by washing your hands and using alcohol-based hand sanitizers
  • Avoiding smoking since it can damage your heart and lungs
  • Getting enough rest and sleep
  • Maintaining a healthy and balanced diet
  • Exercising regularly

8 Alternative and homeopathic remedies for pneumonia

Some homeopathic remedies for pneumonia include:

  • Coryllus avelana – for the remedy of lung tissues
  • Baryta carbonica – for people older than 55
  • Phosphorus triiodatus – for dry cough and hoarseness with pain in the chest
  • Grindelia robusta – for chronic cough with rapid heartbeats
  • Strophantus – for heart failure because of pneumonia
  • Bryonia – for chills and fever
  • Kali carbonicum – for pain in the chest because of a dry suffocating cough
  • Spongia – for barking cough and difficulty breathing
  • Natrum sulfuricum – for a loose cough with pain
  • Antimonium tartaricum – for lung infections
  • Arum triphyllum – for a burning discharge from the nose

Do not try any of the above without first discussing with your doctor.

9 Lifestyle and coping

The recovery path from pneumonia can vary from one person to another, and the time taken to recover varies from one person to another depending on different factors.

While coping from the condition depends on the mental and physical strength of the patient, there are a few tips to help speed up recovery:

  • Rest: Get enough rest until you have recovered fully, since pneumonia can recur. First, ask your doctor if you are allowed to return to your normal activities, such as going back to school or work. Rest is the best way to get your immunity system back on track. Getting adequate sleep and bed rest can do a lot to get rid of the discomfort associated with pneumonia, and they give body the strength to fight the infection back.
  • Diet: Eating a balanced diet is one of the best ways of dealing with pneumonia. Eating lot of fresh fruits and vegetables and cutting down on meat can help the body produce antibodies which can fight the infection. Rather than meat, ask your doctor if you should switch to vegetarian protein options like spinach, pulses, beets, eggplant, artichokes, and so on. For those recuperating from pneumonia, potassium is an important ingredient as it helps in repairing the damaged tissues of the lungs. Various options like radishes, garlic, celery, and spinach are rich sources of potassium.
  • Hot water bath or steam: Inhalation of steam is extremely helpful in soothing pneumonia symptoms. You can inhale steam along with aroma oils like mint which helps make breathing easier. Steam baths or hot water baths help in relaxing the body. As the body relaxes, it gains more strength to fight the infection and recover faster.
  • Hot compress: Hot compresses are known to be extremely helpful in getting rid of the pain and inflammation caused by pneumonia. A hot compress is easy and soothing and can be made with a warm cloth or a hot water bag on the upper body around the chest area. It is known to help in melting the solidified mucus, therefore making it easy to remove orally.
  • Get help: If you or your loved one has been recuperating from pneumonia, do not hesitate to seek help through a nurse or an attendant until the patient completely recuperates from the condition. People tend to feel very weak after a bout of pneumonia, and they may require assistance to carry out everyday tasks.

10 Pneumonia risks

There are several risks associated with pneumonia.

Pneumonia can affect anyone but there are two age groups at higher risk which are:

  • children who are under two years old,
  • people who are older than 65,
  • if you have heart disease or asthma or obstructive pulmonary disease,
  • people who have AIDS/HIV, who had chemotherapy, who are using long-term steroids or had organ transplant,
  • people who smoke,
  • if you are in an ICU most especially if you are on a ventilator.

Some of the complications of pneumonia include:

  • bacteremia or bacteria that will enter your bloodstream from your lungs that can lead to organ failure,
  • lung abscess, if there are pus forming in a cavity in your lungs,
  • difficulty breathing that you may need to use ventilator,
  • pleural effusion or fluid accumulation around your lungs.

11 Complications associated with pneumonia

Pneumonia has been recognized as a serious infection of the lungs, and is known to be one of the biggest killer diseases every year. In fact, a number of causalities occur in the hospital and there isn't much that can be done beyond a certain point.

Pneumonia can be severe for anybody, but it is known to cause more complications in cases of small babies and children, and in elderly people.

Others suffering from chronic diseases and weak immunity levels are also affected more severely.

However, it is possible for many people to easily recover from a bout of pneumonia. 

People who are likely to recover more quickly include:

  • Adolescents and young adults
  • Those people whose conditions were diagnosed and assessed early
  • Patients with a strong immune system
  • Patients who made their first doctor's appointment as soon as symptoms showed up
  • Those not suffering from underlying diseases and conditions

Many people begin to show improvement within 1-3 weeks; however, in the case of an elderly person, the infection may take time to subside and improve.

Since pneumonia can quickly turn fatal and become life threatening, it is important for the patient to follow all instructions given by the doctor for a faster recovery, and to avoid the risk of catching the infection again or passing it on to others.

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