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Pneumonia: Get the Facts

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs characterized by inflammation of the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli). The air sacs can become filled with fluid, causing coughing with phlegm. This can affect either one or both of the lungs. The infection commonly starts as an upper respiratory infection, then later moves into the lower respiratory tract such as the lungs. Pneumonia is a fairly common illness and can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of infections such as viruses, fungi, bacteria and parasites and is commonly seen alongside the influenza virus.

There are three sub-categories of pneumonia:

  • Hospital-acquired, where the infection is acquired in a hospital
  • Health care-acquired, where the infection is acquired in long-term treatment facilities
  • Aspiration pneumonia, where the infection is acquired by inhaling food, drinks, vomit or saliva into your lungs

Symptoms of pneumonia

Common symptoms of pneumonia include:

  • Cough, with or without mucus
  • Fever
  • Chills that may cause shaking
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain that gets worse when you cough or breathe deeply
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle pains
  • Nausea
  • Lower-than-normal body temperature

Who is at risk?

Pneumonia can often be treated at home. However, if you are having difficulty breathing; chest pain; a fever of 102F (39C) or higher; confusion; or a persistent cough, it is important to see your family doctor. While adults do not typically see persistent and severe symptoms, there are some populations who are more at risk for severe pneumonia. These populations include:

•Young children

•Older adults

•Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions such as chronic illnesses or those who have recently recovered from another illness

•Individuals who have experienced surgery or trauma

•Individuals who smoke

•Patients who have a weakened immune system, such as those with HIV or going through radiation treatment


The treatment for pneumonia depends on how severe the infection is. Some people are able to self-treat their pneumonia at home with plenty of fluids and rest. Mild to moderate fever that may accompany the pneumonia can be treated with asprin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as ibuprofen, or acetaminophen.

The prescription treatments for pneumonia depend on what type of infection caused the illness. Antibiotics such as azithromycin, clarithromycin or erythromycin often work very well for non-complicated cases of bacterial pneumonia. Stronger antibiotics may be needed if the infection is more serious. Antibiotic medications will not be able to treat viral pneumonia. Your doctor may prescribe certain antiviral medications instead to treat the infection. Viral pneumonia normally improves in one to three weeks.

Receiving your annual pneumococcal and influenza vaccinations is an important part of resisting pneumonia. This is a normal part of every child’s annual vaccination schedule. This vaccine often prevents an individual from getting pneumonia. If you do get pneumonia after receiving the vaccination, the infection will not be as severe.