What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs that causes the air sacs, known as alveoli, to become inflamed. The alveoli will begin filling with fluid, causing difficulty breathing and other flu-like symptoms. Pneumonia can range from a minor infection to a life-threatening disease, with young children and older adults being the most at risk.
What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
- Coughing Up Mucus or Phlegm
- Chest Pain, Especially When Coughing
- Loss of Appetite
Young children will experience nausea and vomiting along with other symptoms of pneumonia. Older adults who contract pneumonia may become confused and experience shortness of breath.
What Causes Pneumonia?
The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is the streptococcus pneumoniae germ. “Walking Pneumonia” is a type of bacterial pneumonia that is often mild enough to not require bed rest.
An individual may contract bacterial pneumonia after a cold or flu, as residual germs multiply within the lungs. Individuals with bacterial pneumonia are contagious and should take steps not to cough or spread germs near others.
Viral pneumonia is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract, such as influenza (flu) virus. This is the most common cause of Pneumonia in children.
Individuals with viral pneumonia are contagious and should take steps not to cough or spread germs near others. Individuals should practice good hygiene, being sure to wash their hands regularly and before interactions with others.
Fungal pneumonia is caused by inhaling large amounts of fungus from environmental sources such as soil. This is the most common cause of pneumonia in individuals with weakened immune systems like those with HIV/AIDS.
Individuals can only contract fungal pneumonia from their environment and so they are not contagious or at risk of spreading the infection to others.
How is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Doctors will begin by asking questions about a patient’s current and past medical conditions and their recent activities such as travel, hobbies, and if they had recently gotten the flu shot. This will help to determine what type of pneumonia the patient may have.
Next, doctors will listen to the patient’s lungs or order a chest x-ray so that they can determine the presence and amount of fluid in the lungs. Other tests, such as mucus sampling and blood tests can be used to determine the type of bacteria or virus that caused the infection.
How is Pneumonia Treated?
Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. The infection can usually be cleared up within a few weeks, as long as the patient follows their doctor’s instructions and completes their full round of antibiotics. When patients stop taking their antibiotics early, it can increase the risk of becoming infected again.
Patients with viral pneumonia may be prescribed antiviral medication by their doctors. However, in most cases, bed rest is recommended. Cases of viral pneumonia are known to resolve themselves over time.
Fungal pneumonia usually clears up on its own with time and bed rest. However, for patients with weakened immune systems or a history of chronic illness, doctors may prescribe antifungal medication.
Should a patient experience worsening or additional symptoms while recovering from pneumonia, they should consult their doctors immediately.
How to Prevent Pneumonia
It is recommended that adults get regular flu shots and maintain good hygiene habits in their everyday life. Washing your hands often can protect you from viruses and bacteria that can be spread by others. Getting regular sleep and exercise can also strengthen your immune system.
Older adults and parents with young children are encouraged to speak with their doctors about vaccines against pneumonia. Vaccines against other respiratory infections can also work to prevent pneumonia in adults.
Finally, it is important to protect your lungs from airborne irritants and pollutants such as chemical fumes and tobacco smoke. Smoking damages the lungs, causing people who smoke to be at a higher risk of pneumonia.
When to Seek Medical Care for Your Pneumonia
At WMHS, we recommend that any person who has had a cough and a fever after experiencing flu-like symptoms schedule an appointment with their primary care provider as soon as possible or visit a WMHS urgent care center. This is especially important if the cough produces sputum, or mucus, that appears brown, green, or yellow in color.
Anyone who experiences shortness of breath, high fever, confusion, or pain after a diagnosis of pneumonia should go to the WMHS Emergency Department immediately for treatment. Those with a depressed immune system or chronic conditions like HIV or diabetes should also seek immediate care.