What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lung. It can be caused
by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Pneumonia causes inflammation in your lung’s
air sacs, or alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult
Symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening.
The severity of your pneumonia usually depends on:
- the cause of your inflammation
- the type of organism causing your infection
- your age
- your general health
Keep reading to learn about what causes pneumonia as well as its
symptoms. You should call your doctor if you have any concerns. Severe
pneumonia is a medical emergency.
Types and Causes of Pneumonia
There are five major types of pneumonia. They are:
Bacterial pneumonia can affect anyone at any age. It can develop
on its own or after a serious cold or flu. The most common cause of bacterial
pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Bacterial pneumonia can also be
caused by Chlamydophila pneumonia or Legionella pneumophila. Pneumocystis
jiroveci pneumonia is sometimes seen in those who have weak immune systems
due to illnesses like AIDS or cancer.
In most cases, respiratory viruses can cause pneumonia,
especially in young children and the elderly. Pneumonia is usually not serious
and lasts a short time. However, the flu virus can cause viral pneumonia to be
severe or fatal. It’s especially harmful to pregnant women or individuals with
heart or lung issues. Invading bacteria can cause complications with viral
Mycoplasma organisms are not viruses or bacteria, but they have
traits common to both. They are the smallest agents of disease that affect
humans. Mycoplasmas generally cause mild cases of pneumonia, most often in
older children and young adults.
Other Types of Pneumonia
Many additional types of pneumonia affect immune-compromised
individuals. Tuberculosis and Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia
(PCP) generally affect people with suppressed immune systems, such as those who
have AIDS. In fact, PCP can be one of the first signs of illness in people with
Less common types of pneumonia can also be serious. Pneumonia can
be caused by inhaling food, dust, liquid, or gas, as well as by various fungi.
Who Is at Risk for Developing Pneumonia?
No one is immune to pneumonia, but there are certain factors that
can raise your risks:
- People who have had a stroke, have problems
swallowing, or are bedridden can easily develop pneumonia.
- Infants from birth to age two are at risk for
pneumonia, as are individuals age 65 or older.
with weakened immune systems are at increased risk of pneumonia. This
includes people who take medications that weaken the immune system, such as
steroids and certain medications for cancer, and people with HIV, AIDS, or
abuse increases risk. This includes excessive alcohol consumption
medical conditions raise your risks for pneumonia. These conditions
include asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, and heart failure.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
The general symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop quickly
and may include:
- chest pain
- shaking chills
- dry cough
- muscle aches
- rapid breathing
- rapid heartbeat
- difficulty breathing
Some symptoms may indicate a medical emergency. You should seek
immediate medical attention if you have any of these symptoms:
- skin with bluish tone (from lack of oxygen)
- blood in sputum (coughed-up mucus)
- labored breathing
- high fever (102.5°F or higher)
- rapid heartbeat
How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Pneumonia can be easily overlooked as the cause of an illness
because it often resembles a cold or the flu. However, it usually lasts longer
and symptoms seem more severe than these other conditions.
Detailed Patient History
To determine whether or not you have pneumonia, your doctors will
usually inquire about your signs and symptoms. Questions they may ask include:
- What are your symptoms and when did they begin?
- What were your recent travels and activities?
- What was your recent exposure to animals?
- What was your recent exposure to individuals who
- What are your past and current medical issues?
- What medications are you currently taking?
- What is your smoking history?
- Have you recently had any vaccinations or
Crackling and bubbling sounds in the chest during inhalation are
usually indicators of pneumonia. Wheezing may also be present. Your doctor may
also have trouble hearing normal breathing sounds in different areas of your
Chest X-rays can be used to determine if infection is present in
your lungs. However, chest X-rays won’t show your type of pneumonia. Blood
tests can provide a better picture of the type of pneumonia. Also, blood tests
are necessary to see if the infection is in your bloodstream.
The following are additional tests that may be required:
- A CT scan of the chest is similar to an X-ray,
but the pictures provided by this method are highly detailed. This painless
test provides a clear and precise picture of the chest and lungs.
- This sputum test involves examining the sputum
(the mucus you cough up) to determine what type of pneumonia is present.
- If there is fluid apparent in the pleural space
(the space between the tissue that covers the outside of your lungs and the
inside of your chest cavity), a fluid sample can be taken to help determine if
the pneumonia is bacterial or viral.
- A pulse
oximetry test measures the level of oxygen blood saturation by attaching
a small sensor to your finger. Pneumonia can prevent normal oxygenation of the blood.
- When antibiotics fail, a bronchoscopy can be
used to view the airways inside the lungs to determine if blocked airways are
contributing to the pneumonia.
How Is Pneumonia Treated?
The type of treatment prescribed for pneumonia mostly depends on
what type of pneumonia is present, as well as how severe it is. In many cases,
pneumonia can be treated at home.
The typical treatment plan for pneumonia includes taking all
prescribed medications and participating in follow-up care. A chest X-ray may
be ordered to make sure your pneumonia has been successfully treated.
Treating Bacterial Pneumonia
Antibiotics are used to treat this type of pneumonia. Antibiotics
should be taken as directed. If you stop taking the antibiotics before
treatment is complete, the pneumonia may return. Most people will improve after
one to three days of treatment.
Treating Viral Pneumonia
Antibiotics are useless if a virus is the cause of pneumonia.
However, certain antiviral drugs can help treat the condition. Symptoms usually
clear within one to three weeks.
Can Pneumonia Be Prevented?
Anyone with diabetes, asthma, and other severe or chronic health
problems is at risk for pneumonia. However, in many cases, it can be prevented
with vaccines against bacterial pneumonia and flu. Quitting smoking will
definitely lower your risk of pneumonia.