Pneumonia

Pneumonia: Type, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Table of Contents

Pneumonia is when one or both lungs get inflamed, usually because of bacteria, viruses, or fungi. With pneumonia the small air sacs in the lung fill with or pus, causing coughing, chest pain, and trouble breathing. Anyone can get pneumonia. However, young children, older adults and people with other health problems that make their immune system weaker are more likely to get it. These groups are also more likely to have complications from pneumonia. 

Is Pneumonia Curable?

A variety of infection agents can cause pneumonia. With proper recognition and treatment many cases of pneumonia can be cleared without complications. For bacterial infections, stopping antibiotics early can lead to incomplete clearance of the infection, increasing the risk of pneumonia returning. Additionally, premature cessation of antibiotics can contribute to antibiotic resistance making infection harder to treat. Viral pneumonia often resolves within 1 to 3 weeks with at home treatment. In some cases, antiviral medications may be necessary. Antifungal medications are used to treat fungal pneumonia, which may require a longer treatment period.

What are the Types of Pneumonia?

Pneumonia types vary based on their cause. The different types and their causes include:

Bacterial Pneumonia

Many bacteria can cause pneumonia, but the most common is Streptococcus pneumonia (S. pneumonia). Pneumonia from this strain is called pneumococcal pneumonia. 

Viral Pneumonia

This can be caused by viruses like the respiratory syncytial virus and influenza types A and B. 

Fungal Pneumonia

This can happen from conditions like valley fever, caused by the Coccidioides fungus.

Aspiration Pneumonia

This type occurs when you inhale food, liquids, or stomach contents into your lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is not contagious. 

Hospital Acquired Pneumonia

This can occur in people receiving hospital treatment for other conditions, especially if they are using a respirator or breathing machine.

Walking Pneumonia

This is the nickname for a less serious type of pneumonia officially called mycoplasma pneumonia, named after the bacteria that cause it. Young adults and older children most often get this type which often doesn’t require bed rest. 

What are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

Your symptoms can vary depending on the cause of your pneumonia, your age, and your overall health. They usually develop over several days. Common symptoms of pneumonia include: 

  • Sharp pain in your chest or belly when you breathe or cough 
  • Coughing usually producing phlegm or mucus 
  • Fatigue 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Fever 
  • Sweating 
  • Chills 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • A bluish tint to your lips or fingernails (may be harder to see on darker skin tones) 
  • Asthma 
  • A fast breathing or trouble breathing 
  • A fast pulse 
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain when breathing or coughing 

In addition to these symptoms, older adults and people with weak immune systems might feel confused or have trouble thinking. They might also have a lower than normal body temperature. Symptoms of viral pneumonia tend to come on slowly and are often mild at first. They may include: 

  • Coughing 
  • Fever and chills 
  • Headache 
  • Shortness of breath especially during exertion 

If you have trouble breathing a persistent cough, chest pain, or a fever of 102 F or higher see your doctor.

What are the Causes of Pneumonia?

You get pneumonia when a harmful substance overwhelms your immune system and infects your lungs. Viruses that can cause viral pneumonia include: 

  • Influenza viruses 
  • Cold viruses 
  • RSV 
  • SARS-CoV-2, which cause COVID-19 
  • Measles virus 
  • Adenovirus 
  • Varicella-zoster which causes chicken pox 
  • The whooping cough virus

 

The bacteria that can cause bacterial pneumonia include: 

  • Pneumococcus bacteria (the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia) 
  • Mycoplasma 
  • Legionella (the bacterium that cause Legionnaire disease) 
  • Certain types of chlamydia bacteria

 

Fungi that can cause fungal pneumonia include: 

  • Coccidioidomycosis (the fungus that causes valley fever, found in parts of the Southwestern U.S.)
  • Cryptococcus (found in bird dropping and soil contaminated with it) 
  • Histoplasmosis (occurs in the Mississippi and Ohio River valleys)  

What are the Risk Factors of Pneumonia?

Anyone can get pneumonia but it most commonly affects babies and people over 65. You’re also at higher risk if you: 

  1. Have a lung condition like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  2. Have another serious health condition like heart disease and diabetes.
  3. Have a weakened immune system due to a condition like AIDS, chemotherapy, or an organ transplant. 
  4. Spend time in a healthcare facility such as a hospital or long-term care home. 
  5. Have trouble swallowing 
  6. Use a ventilator 
  7. Smoke or are exposed to secondhand smoke 
  8. Misuse alcohol or drugs 
  9. Spend time in an environment with irritants like dust, fumes, or chemicals.
  10. Diabetes.
  11. HIV/AIDS.
  12. Have cancer.
  13. Take medicines for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  14. Experience malnutrition.
  15. Smoke tobacco consumes large amounts of alcohol or both.
  16. Have been exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants.
  17. Have recently been hospitalized in an intensive care unit. 

What is the Diagnosis of Pneumonia?

To diagnose pneumonia, a doctor will usually ask about a person’s symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam. The exam may include listening to the chest with a stethoscope and measuring blood oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter on the finger. A doctor may suspect pneumonia if they hear:

  • Coarse breathing 
  • Wheezing 
  • Crackling 
  • Decreased breath sounds 

If pneumonia is suspected doctors may order additional tests, including:

  1. Chest-X Rays: These can confirm a pneumonia diagnosis and show which areas of the lungs are affected. 
  2. Chest CT Scan: Provides more detailed images of the lungs.
  3. White Blood Cell (WBC) Count: Measures levels of WBCs in the blood to determine the severity of the infection and whether it is caused by bacteria, a virus or fungus. 
  4. Arterial Blood Gas Test: Providers a more accurate reading of the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels. 
  5. Blood Cultures: May reveal if the microorganism from the lungs has spread into the bloodstream. 
  6. Sputum Analysis: Test the sputum to identify which pathogens are causing the pneumonia.
  7. Bronchoscopy: Involves passing a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera into the lungs while the person is under anesthesia. This allows the doctor to directly examine infected parts of the person under anesthesia. This allows the doctor to directly examine infected parts of the airways and lungs. This procedure is recommended when further investigation is needed.

What is the Treatment of Pneumonia?

Your treatment will depend on the cause of your pneumonia, how serious it is, and your overall health. Most people can recover at home with rest and medication. 

Pneumonia Medication

If you have bacterial pneumonia, you’ll be prescribed antibiotics. It’s important to take all of the medicine your doctor gives you even if you start feeling better before finishing it. If you have viral pneumonia, antibiotics won’t help. You’ll need to rest, drink plenty of fluids, and take medication for your fever. Antiviral medications can be effective against some viruses that cause pneumonia. For fungal pneumonia your doctor will prescribe antifungal medication.

Atypical Pneumonia Treatment

Atypical pneumonia is caused by bacteria that are difficult for doctors to detect with standard methods, such as mycoplasma and legionella. If you have a mild case, you may be able to recover with rest and self-care at home. However, if it’s more serious your doctor will treat it with antibiotics.

Pneumonia Nebulizer

Your doctor may prescribe a nebulizer or inhaler to you or your child to help with breathing. However, it’s important to note that this won’t treat the pneumonia itself, it’s mainly for managing symptoms and making breathing easier. 

Hospitalization for Pneumonia

If your symptoms are serious or if you have other conditions that increase the risk of complications, your doctor may admit you to the hospital. While you’re there, your doctor will likely administer fluids or antibiotics through an IV. You may also require oxygen therapy or breathing treatments. In some cases, doctors may need to drain fluid from your lungs. 

What are the Complications of Pneumonia?

Pneumonia can lead to complication which are more common in: 

  • Your children 
  • Older adults 
  • People with certain preexisting health conditions

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some potential complications of pneumococcal pneumonia include: 

  • Empyema
  • Pericarditis 
  • Endobronchial obstruction 
  • Atelectasis 
  • Lung abscess 

Some other possible complications of pneumonia include:

  • Pleurisy 
  • Septicemia 
  • Sepsis  

What is the Prevention of Pneumonia?

  1. Vaccination: The primary defense against pneumonia is vaccination. There are several vaccines available that can help prevent pneumonia. 
  2. Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23: These two pneumonia vaccines help protect against pneumonia and meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Your doctor can advise you on which one might be better for you. Prevnar 13 is effective against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends this vaccine for:  Children under age 2  People between ages 2 and 64 with chronic conditions that increase their risk of pneumonia  Adults ages 65 and older, as advised by their doctor  Pneumovax 23 is effective against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends it for: 
  • Adults ages 65 and older 
  • Adults ages 19 to 64 who smoke 
  1. Flu Vaccine: Pneumonia can often be a complication of the flu, so it’s important to get an annual flu shot as well. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get vaccinated, especially those who may be at risk of flu complications.
  2. Hib Vaccine:  This vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), a bacterium that can cause pneumonia and meningitis. The CDC recommends this vaccine for:  All children under 5 years’ old  Unvaccinated older children or adults with certain health conditions People who have received a bone marrow transplant 
  3. According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood institute, pneumonia vaccines won’t prevent all cases of the condition. However, if you’re vaccinated you’re likely to have a milder and shorter illness, as well as a lower risk of complications. 

FAQ's

How long can pneumonia last?

Recovery from pneumonia can vary from person to person. Some individuals may start feeling better and return to their normal routines within 1 to 2 weeks, while for others it may take a month or even longer. It’s common for most people to experience fatigue for about a month as they continue to recover.

Which foods help clear lungs?

According to a study the antioxidants found in apples and tomatoes can contribute to better lung function. Another study indicates that including fiber-rich foods like lentils and beans in your diet can also improve your lung health.

Can I drink milk if I have pneumonia?

Drink at least 6-8 glasses of fluid a day. Water and juice are best. Coffee and soft drinks with caffeine don’t count. You may avoid milk products until you are feeling better.

Which juice clears lungs?

  • A better ABC (apple beet carrot) juice. 
  • Classic beet juice 
  • Elderberry juice with orange and pear    
  • Pineapple green juice with ginger and kale
  • Soothing grape juice 
  • What not to eat in pneumonia?
  • Salty foods 
  • Dairy products 
  • Processed meats 
  • Soda 
  • Fried foods

What are the superfoods for pneumonia?

A diet rich in protein is beneficial for people suffering from pneumonia. Foods like nuts, seeds, beans, white meat, and cold water, fish such as salmon and sardines have anti-inflammatory properties. 

  

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