Pneumonia is a respiratory condition characterized by the inflammation of the lung tissue, which can affect one or both lungs. The cause of pneumonia is typically a bacterial or viral infection.
Symptoms of pneumonia can vary in severity and may include:
- Cough that produces phlegm or mucus
- Chest pain when you breathe or cough
- Fever, sweating, and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid breathing
- Fatigue and weakness
- Muscle pain
- Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
In severe cases, pneumonia can cause a person to develop sepsis, a life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to infection damages its own tissues and organs. Symptoms of sepsis can include fever, chills, rapid breathing and heart rate, extreme fatigue, and changes in mental function. It is important to seek medical attention if you suspect you may have pneumonia, especially if you are experiencing any symptoms of sepsis.
What causes pneumonia
- Bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae and Haemophilus influenzae are the most common causes of bacterial pneumonia.
- Viruses: Influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and human metapneumovirus are common causes of viral pneumonia.
- Fungi: Aspergillus, Histoplasma, and Pneumocystis are fungi that can cause pneumonia.
- Inhaled foreign substances: Pneumonia can be caused by inhaling vomit, food, or liquids into the lungs.
- Other factors: Pneumonia can also be caused by a combination of these factors or by other underlying health conditions, such as a weak immune system or chronic lung disease.
Pneumonia can affect people of all ages, but it is more common and more serious in certain groups. People at higher risk of developing pneumonia include:
- Older adults: The risk of pneumonia increases with age, especially in people over 65.
- Children: Children under 5 years old, especially those under 2, are at higher risk of pneumonia.
- People with weakened immune systems: People with conditions that weaken their immune system, such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, or organ transplantation, are at higher risk of pneumonia.
- People with chronic medical conditions: People with chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or diabetes, are at higher risk of pneumonia.
- Smokers: Smoking damages the respiratory system and increases the risk of pneumonia.
- People who live in crowded or unsanitary conditions: Pneumonia is more common in people who live in crowded or unsanitary conditions, as these conditions can facilitate the spread of infection.
There are several tests that can be used to diagnose pneumonia, including:
- Physical examination: A healthcare provider will listen to your lungs with a stethoscope to check for abnormal sounds, such as crackling or wheezing, which may be signs of pneumonia.
- Chest X-ray: This test takes a picture of your lungs and can show whether you have pneumonia and where it is located in your lungs.
- Blood tests: These tests can show whether you have an infection and how severe it is.
- Sputum culture: This test involves collecting a sample of the phlegm that you cough up and sending it to a laboratory to identify the bacteria or virus that is causing your infection.
- Pulse oximetry: This test measures the amount of oxygen in your blood using a device that is placed on your finger. Low oxygen levels can be a sign of pneumonia.
- CT scan: This test takes detailed pictures of your lungs and can be helpful in diagnosing pneumonia and determining the severity of the infection.
The treatment for pneumonia will depend on the severity of the infection and the underlying cause. Some general treatment options for pneumonia include:
- Antibiotics: If the pneumonia is caused by bacteria, your healthcare provider will prescribe antibiotics to kill the bacteria and help your body fight the infection.
- Antiviral medications: If the pneumonia is caused by a virus, your healthcare provider may prescribe antiviral medications to help your body fight the infection.
- Oxygen therapy: If you have low oxygen levels, you may need to receive extra oxygen through a mask or a tube placed in your nose.
- Fluids: Pneumonia can cause dehydration, so you may need to drink extra fluids or receive fluids through a vein (intravenously).
- Pain medication: You may need pain medication to help control chest pain and other discomforts.
- Rest: It is important to get plenty of rest to help your body fight the infection and recover.
- Vaccines: There are vaccines available to help prevent some types of pneumonia, such as pneumococcal pneumonia. Your healthcare provider can recommend the appropriate vaccines for you.
- It is important to follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plan to help your body fight the infection and recover.
Complications of pneumonia
Pneumonia can cause a variety of complications, depending on the severity of the infection and the underlying cause. Some potential complications of pneumonia include:
- Respiratory failure: Pneumonia can cause the lungs to become inflamed and fill with fluid, which can make it difficult to breathe. This can lead to respiratory failure, a life-threatening condition in which the body is not able to get enough oxygen.
- Sepsis: Pneumonia can lead to sepsis, a potentially life-threatening condition that occurs when the body’s response to an infection damages its own tissues and organs.
- Pleural effusion: Pneumonia can cause fluid to build up around the lungs, a condition called pleural effusion. This can make it difficult to breathe and may require treatment to drain the fluid.
- Abscess: Pneumonia can sometimes cause an abscess, or a collection of pus, to form in the lungs. This may require treatment with antibiotics and possibly surgery to drain the abscess.
- Long-term lung damage: Pneumonia can cause scarring and damage to the lungs, which can lead to long-term breathing problems.
- Other complications: Pneumonia can also cause other complications, such as heart problems, blood clotting disorders, and malnutrition.
Here are some steps you can take to help prevent pneumonia:
- Get vaccinated: Vaccines can help protect against certain types of pneumonia. The pneumococcal vaccine is recommended for all adults 65 years and older and for people with certain medical conditions that increase the risk of pneumonia. The flu vaccine can also help prevent pneumonia caused by the flu virus.
- Practice good hygiene: Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially before eating and after using the bathroom. This can help prevent the spread of infections that can cause pneumonia.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking damages the respiratory system and increases the risk of pneumonia. If you smoke, quitting can help reduce your risk of pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
- Avoid close contact with sick people: Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick, especially if they have a respiratory illness.
- Eat a healthy diet: A healthy diet can help strengthen your immune system and reduce your risk of pneumonia and other infections.
- Stay active: Regular physical activity can help keep your respiratory system healthy and reduce your risk of pneumonia.
- Practice healthy habits: Get enough sleep, manage stress, and avoid situations that can weaken your immune system, such as extreme weather or extreme fatigue.