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What you should know about pneumonia

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs with a range of possible causes. It can be a serious and life-threatening disease.

It normally starts with a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.

The lungs become inflamed, and the tiny air sacs, or alveoli, inside the lungs fill up with fluid.

Pneumonia can occur in young and healthy people, but it is most dangerous for older adults, infants, people with other diseases, and those with impaired immune systems.

In the United States (U.S.), around 1 million people are treated in the hospital for pneumonia each year, and around 50,000 die from the disease.

Fast facts on pneumonia

Here are some key points about pneumonia. More detail is in the main article.

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages.

It is the leading cause of death due to infection in children younger than 5 years of age worldwide.

Pneumonia and influenza together are ranked as the eighth leading cause of death in the U.S.

Those at high risk for pneumonia include older adults, the very young, and people with underlying health problems.

 

Symptoms

The first symptoms of pneumonia usually resemble those of a cold or flu. The person then develops a high fever, chills, and cough with sputum.

Common symptoms include:

  • cough

  • rusty or green phlegm, or sputum, coughed up from lungs

  • fever

  • fast breathing and shortness of breath

  • shaking chills

  • chest pain that usually worsens when taking a deep breath, known as pleuritic pain

  • fast heartbeat

  • fatigue and weakness

  • nausea and vomiting

  • diarrhea

  • sweating

  • headache

  • muscle pain

  • confusion or delirium, especially in older adults

  • dusky or purplish skin color, or cyanosis, from poorly oxygenated blood

Symptoms can vary depending on other underlying conditions and the type of pneumonia.

Treatment

Treatment depends on the type and severity of the pneumonia.

  • Bacterial types of pneumonia are usually treated with antibiotics.

  • Viral types of pneumonia are usually treated with rest and plenty of fluids. Antiviral medications can be used in influenza.

  • Fungal types of pneumonia are usually treated with antifungal medications.

Doctors commonly prescribe over-the-counter (OTC) medications to help manage the symptoms of pneumonia. These include treatments for reducing fever, reducing aches and pains, and suppressing coughs.

In addition, it is crucial to rest and drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps to thin out thick phlegm and mucus, making it easier to cough up.

Hospitalization for pneumonia may be required if symptoms are especially bad or if an individual has a weakened immune system or other serious illnesses.

In the hospital, patients are generally treated with intravenous antibiotics and fluids. They may need a supplemental oxygen supply.

In children

In most children, the immune system can protect them from pneumonia. If a child does develop pneumonia, it is usually due to a virus.

Symptoms include:

difficulty breathing

not feeding properly

coughing

fever

irritability

dehydration

Toddlers may complain of pain in their chest, and they may vomit after coughing.

Treatment includes plenty of rest and a regular intake of fluids. The doctor may suggest over-the-counter for abdominal problems, but cough medicines will not help. Adults should not smoke around children, especially if they have pneumonia.

Causes

Bacteria and viruses are the main causes of pneumonia. Pneumonia-causing germs can settle in the alveoli and multiply after a person breathes them in.

Pneumonia can be contagious. The bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia are usually inhaled.

They can be passed on through coughing and sneezing, or spread onto shared objects through touch.

The body sends white blood cells to attack the infection. This is why the air sacs become inflamed. The bacteria and viruses fill the lung sacs with fluid and pus, causing pneumonia.

Risk factors

Those most at risk include people who:

are aged under 5 years or over 65 years

smoke tobacco, consume large amounts of alcohol, or both

have underlying conditions such as cystic fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), asthma, or conditions that affect the kidneys, heart, or liver

have a weakened or impaired immune system, due, for example, to AIDS, HIV, or cancer

take medicines for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)

have recently recovered from a cold or influenza infection

experience malnutrition

have been recently hospitalized in an intensive care unit

have been exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants

Some groups are more prone than others to pneumonia, including Native Alaskan or certain Native American ethnicities.

https://www.mayoclinic.org/-/media/kcms/gbs/patient-consumer/images/2016/05/18/13/02/ww5r032t-8col-jpg