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Bronchopneumonia: Symptoms, Risk Factors, and Treatment
What makes bronchopneumonia different from pneumonia? Learn the symptoms of this condition and the best way to treat it.

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Bronchopneumonia is a type of pneumonia. Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs due to an infection caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi. The infection causes inflammation in the alveoli in the lungs, causing the alveoli to fill with pus or fluid. The alveoli are tiny air sacs.

There are two types of pneumonia. Lobar pneumonia affects one or more sections, or lobes, of the lungs. Bronchopneumonia affects both lungs and the bronchi. Bronchopneumonia can be mild or severe. Viral bronchopneumonia is less severe usually.

What Causes Bronchopneumonia?

Both forms of pneumonia are often the result of contact with viruses and bacteria in your everyday routine. Most cases of bacterial pneumonia are caused by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia. However, it’s not uncommon for pneumonia to result from more than one type of bacteria. Other possible culprits include:

  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae

The same viruses that cause colds and flus also cause most cases of viral pneumonia.

According to the Mayo Clinic, patients can often acquire very severe forms of pneumonia in hospital settings. The pneumonia in hospital settings can be the result of germs resistant to antibiotics.

Who Is at Risk?

Certain groups of people are more at risk for developing bronchopneumonia. The risk factors include:

  • being age 2 or younger
  • being age 65 or older
  • having a lung disease, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • having HIV or AIDS
  • having a weakened immune system due to chemotherapy or the use of immunosuppressive drugs
  • having a chronic disease, such as heart disease or diabetes
  • being on a ventilator
  • being a smoker
  • having a history of heavy alcohol use
  • having trouble coughing
  • having trouble swallowing
  • being malnourished

What Are the Symptoms?

Symptoms can develop gradually or suddenly. Viral bronchopneumonia may begin with flu-like symptoms but become more severe in a few days. Symptoms of bronchopneumonia include:

  • fever
  • a cough that brings up mucus
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pain
  • rapid breathing
  • sweating
  • chills
  • headache
  • muscle aches
  • fatigue
  • confusion or delirium, especially in older people

Tests and Diagnosis

Your doctor will begin by conducting a physical exam. They may take your temperature to look for a fever. Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to your lungs. They’re listening for a bubbling or wheezing sound that’s common with this condition. Your doctor will also listen to various places on your chest to identify areas where it’s harder to hear your breathing, indicating the presence of bronchopneumonia.

Your doctor may diagnose you based on a physical exam. They may also send you for tests to rule out other possible causes.

Your doctor may order a complete blood count (CBC) to look at the number of white blood cells in your blood. An elevated number of white blood cells may indicate a bacterial infection. Your doctor may also test your blood to determine the virus, bacterium, or fungus causing the bronchopneumonia.

A chest X-ray is one of the best ways to diagnose this condition. This test uses electromagnetic radiation to create a picture of the lungs and chest. This allows your doctor to find areas affected by bronchopneumonia.

If you’re very ill, your doctor may order more tests to get information about the severity of your illness and what’s causing the condition.

  • A CT scan produces a picture similar to an X-ray but in more detail. This will tell your doctor where the infection is in your lungs.
  • A sputum culture tests a sample of mucus from your lungs to determine the cause of the infection.
  • A bronchoscopy involves putting a camera down your throat to look at your bronchial tubes. This can determine if there are other factors causing your bronchopneumonia.
  • Finally, your doctor may order a pulse oximetry, which involves putting a sensor on your finger. It measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. The results of this test can tell your doctor the severity of the infection and your ability to absorb oxygen.

Treatment Options

Viral bronchopneumonia normally doesn’t require medical treatment and improves on its own in one to two weeks. Antivirals can help reduce the length of your illness and the severity of your symptoms.

If you have bacterial bronchopneumonia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics will destroy the bacteria causing the infection. Most people feel better within one to three days after starting antibiotics. It’s important that you finish your entire course of antibiotics to prevent the infection from returning.

Your doctor may also suggest a fever reducer or cough medication for both viral and bacterial bronchopneumonia. These medications can help relieve your symptoms, but they won’t cure you.

Treatment at home to help relieve your symptoms includes:

  • rest
  • drinking plenty of warm fluids
  • using a humidifier
  • drinking plenty of water

You may need to go to the hospital if your infection is severe and if you meet two or more of the following criteria:

  • you’re over age 65
  • your breathing is rapid
  • your blood pressure drops
  • you become confused
  • you need breathing assistance

Treatment in the hospital may include intravenous (IV) antibiotics. If your blood oxygen levels are low, you may receive oxygen therapy to help your blood oxygen levels return to normal.

Prevention Tips

Vaccinations can be very helpful in preventing bronchopneumonia. An annual flu shot can be helpful because influenza can indirectly cause pneumonia.

A pneumococcus vaccine is also available, and it’s effective for 5 years. This is suggested for individuals over the age of 65, individuals who live in a long-term care facility, and individuals who are at increased risk for developing bronchopneumonia. Children under age 2 can receive a pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. The Mayo Clinic states that doctors suggest this vaccine for children who are between ages 2 and 5 and who are at risk for developing a pneumococcal disease or who attend a childcare facility.

Simple care measures can reduce your risk of getting sick and developing bronchopneumonia. These measures include:

  • washing your hands regularly
  • avoiding smoking
  • not using alcohol heavily
  • avoiding contact with sick individuals

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by exercising, getting enough rest, and eating a healthy diet will also help to prevent bronchopneumonia. 

Written by: Janelle Martel and Rachel Nall
Edited by:
Medically Reviewed by:
Published: Oct 6, 2015
Published By: Healthline Networks, Inc.
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