What is Pneumonia? Symptoms, Causes, Treatment
Pneumonia is an infection that inflames (swelling, burning sensation) air sacs in one or both lungs, which may fill the lungs with fluid or pus. It can range from mild to severe depending on the type of germ causing the infection, your age and your overall health. If infected, it can be particularly dangerous to infants, children and adults aged over 65 years.
Causes of Pneumonia
Bacterial, viral, and fungal infections can cause pneumonia. Bacterial are the most common cause. There are more than 30 different causes of pneumonia, and they're grouped by the cause.
1. Bacterial Pneumonia: It is caused by various types of bacteria that infect the respiratory tract. It can occur on its own or it can develop after other viral infections like cold or the flu. It occurs when the body’s immune system has been weakened in some way, such as with sickness, poor nutrition, old age, etc. It affects people of all ages; however, some are at greater risk upon alcohol consumption, smoking, had a surgery recently or have an impaired immune system.
Examples of bacterial pneumonia are:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – most common
- Mycoplasma pneumoniae – causes mild infections of respiratory system, especially in children. This is a form of atypical bacterial pneumonia, as its symptoms and physical signs are somewhat different. The disease caused by this bacterium is called mycoplasma pneumonia.
- Legionella pneumophila
2. Viral Pneumonia : This type of pneumonia is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory tract. This type is responsible for about one-third of all pneumonia cases. It is likely that you may get a bacterial pneumonia if you already suffering from viral pneumonia. This type of infection is mild and goes away on its own within a few weeks.
Examples of viral pneumonia are:
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Some common cold and flu viruses
- SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19
3. Fungal Pneumonia : Less common pneumonia infections are caused by fungi. These are common in people who are suffering from chronic (long-lasting) health problems or weakened immune systems.
Examples of fungal pneumonia are:
- Pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP)
- Coccidioidomycosis, which causes valley fever
Bacterial, viral, mycoplasma, and fungal pneumonia are also the four different types of pneumonia.
Depending on the part of lungs affected – Types of pneumonia include
- Lobar pneumonia: Affects one or more sections (lobes) of the lungs.
- Bronchial pneumoni: Infection occurs in the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lungs. It is also known as bronchopneumonia, affects patches throughout both lungs.
- Acute interstitial pneumonia: It is rare and involves the alveolated lung parenchyma tissue. It causes rapid onset of respiratory failure. It is distinguishable from other forms.
Risk factors of Pneumonia
Anyone can get pneumonia. However, some groups are more likely to get it, they include:
- Adults ages 65 and older
- Children younger than age 2
- People with chronic conditions
- People that smoke
- People with weakened immune system
- Being hospitalized
- Recently being sick with a cold or the flu
- Exposure to certain chemicals, pollutants, or toxic fumes
Symptoms of Pneumonia
Pneumonia symptoms vary from mild that go unnoticed to severe that require hospitalization.
Some of the signs and symptoms include the following:
- Cough with phlegm or pus (greenish, yellowish in colour, sometimes it can be a bloody mucus)
- Fever, sweating and chills
- Difficulty breathing
- Sharp or stabbing feeling in the chest that hurts as you breathe deeply or cough (sometimes the pain gets worse)
- Bluish colour to lips and fingernails
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting, especially in small children
- Confusion, especially in older people
Diagnosis for Pneumonia
After thorough physical examination with a stethoscope, your healthcare provider may ask you about your medical history and order for the following tests to determine the type of pneumonia infection:
- Chest X-Ray to look for signs of pneumonia and extent of the infection
- Conduct pulse oximetry to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood. This test helps to know how well your lungs are moving oxygen into your bloodstream.
- Complete blood count (CBC) blood test to check how your immune system is reacting to the infection
- Blood culture to find out how much your lungs are affected
In case you are a high-risk patient, such as you have any other medical conditions or are older, the following tests are also ordered.
- CT scan
- Sputum test – checks for bacteria in your spit
- Bronchoscopy, a procedure used to look inside your lungs' airways
Treatment for Pneumonia
Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia, what germ is causing it, and how severe it is. These include:
- Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial and some types of fungal pneumonia. They are not effective in the case of viral pneumonia.
- Antiviral drugs are prescribed in case of viral pneumonia.
- Antifungal medication is prescribed if fungus is the cause of pneumonia.
Other cough suppressants, therapies or breathing exercises might be recommended to ease the patient with symptoms. Depending on the severity of pneumonia, recovery can vary to weeks to a month or more.
Complications of Pneumonia
Even with treatment, there is a chance of developing complications in people who fall under the high-risk criteria. These include:
- Bacteria in the bloodstream: Bacteria that enter the bloodstream from the lungs can spread the infection to other organs and cause organ failure.
- Breathing difficulties: People with severe pneumonia or chronic lung disease may have difficulty breathing enough oxygen. You may need to be hospitalized and put on a ventilator while your lungs heal.
- Fluid accumulation around the lungs: Pneumonia can collect fluid in the thin space between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity. Infected bodily fluids must be drained through a chest tube or surgically removed.
- Lung abscess:: An abscess occurs when pus forms in a cavity in the lung. Abscesses are usually treated with antibiotics. Surgery or drainage, in which a long needle or tube is inserted into the abscess, may be necessary to remove the pus.
Prevention of Pneumonia
Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia, also having a good hygiene, not smoking and over healthy lifestyle helps prevent pneumonia.
Following discuss the same briefly:
- Vaccination: Vaccines are available to prevent certain types of pneumonia. Talk to your healthcare provider about the shots. Also, make sure to get your children vaccinated according to their vaccination schedule, vaccine type and number of shots.
- Good hygiene: Wash your hands regularly and sanitize with alcohol-based hand sanitizer. It is a good habit that protects you against respiratory infections among many other kinds of infections.
- Quit smoking : Smoking damages your lungs’ natural defences against respiratory infections.
- Build a strong immune system: Get enough sleep, exercise regularly, and eat healthy.
- Avoid crowds:: It is suggested to avoid crowds, especially those who are sick to avoid exposure to lung irritants such as cigarette smoke and air pollution.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Is there a pneumonia “season?”
After a cold or flu, you are more likely to get pneumonia. That's because these diseases make it harder to fight infections. That's why the cold and flu season (i.e. fall-winter) is also the pneumonia season.
Is pneumonia contagious?
Pneumonia as a disease is not contagious. However, the bacteria that cause this disease can be freely transmitted from person to person. Therefore, people who are already at high-risk for pneumonia, people with weakened immune systems should avoid close contact with people with pneumoni, especially those who suffer from bronchial pneumonia.
What food items can help to treat pneumonia?
Apart from medical treatments, below listed food items are suggested that can help in improving conditions in most patients:
- Variety of fruits and vegetables
- Beetroot and spinach are said to be effective for pneumonia
- Carrot juice
- Whole grains – oats, brown rice, barley
- Cold water fish – provides protein and omega 3 fats
- Chicken soup
- 6 – 10 cups of liquid: including water, juice, mild tea. Avoid coffee and milk.
Does pneumonia cause death?
Pneumonia can range from a mild to serious or life-threatening infection and can sometimes lead to death.
Gleneagles Global Health City has some of the best pulmonologists in Chennai with years of experience in this field, treating thousands of patients each year.
Dr Suresh S
M.B.B.S, M.D (Respiratory Medicine)
Consultant & Interventional Pulmonologist
Department of Pulmonary Critical Care and Lung Transplantation