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Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention

What is pneumonia?

An infection of the lungs that can be mild or severe enough to require hospitalization is called pneumonia.

Lung infection leads to fluid or pus filling the alveoli (your doctor will call them alveoli) within your lungs. If you don't get enough oxygen into your bloodstream, you may have difficulty breathing.

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An infection of the lungs can affect anyone. In addition, infants younger than two years and people over 65 years of age are at the greatest risk. It's possible that their immune systems are not strong enough to cope with it. 

Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs. Sometimes people aren't even aware they have pneumonia. These cases are called walking pneumonia. Several things can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. 

The infection can be spread by viruses and bacteria. In addition to lifestyle behaviors like smoking and drinking too much alcohol, pneumonia can also be caused by lifestyle habits. 

Symptoms of Pneumonia:

There can be a wide range of symptoms among different groups. It's possible that infants don't show any symptoms at all. Other infants may be sick, have a fever, and cough. It may seem like they have no energy, or they may seem restless.

A person with a serious illness or a weak immune system may experience fewer symptoms and milder symptoms. They may even experience a lower body temperature than normal. Patients with pneumonia often experience sudden changes in their mental awareness.

Below are some of the symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Coughing that produces mucus (phlegm)
  • Fever
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Headaches
  • Sweating or chills
  • A feeling of shortness of breath that occurs when doing normal activities, or even when resting
  • Coughing or breathing causes chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite

Depending on your age and general health, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • While infants may not show any symptoms, they may vomit, lack energy, or have trouble eating or drinking.
  • The breathing of young children may be fast or wheezing.
  • Older adults may have milder symptoms. The body temperature can also be lower than normal or they may be confused.

Causes of Pneumonia:

Pneumonia is caused by bacteria invading the lungs and infecting them. As an immune system response to an infection, air sacs (alveoli) in the lung become inflamed. Inflammation can result in fluids and pus filling up the air sacs, resulting in pneumonia symptoms.

Pneumonia can be caused by many types of infectious agents, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

  • The most common cause of pneumonia is a type of bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • The bacterial type causing Legionnaires' disease is Legionella pneumophila.
  • Another type of bacteria that causes pneumonia is Legionella pneumophila, which causes so-called "atypical" pneumonia. Other types of bacteria can also cause pneumonia, such as Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae.
  • There is another type of bacteria (Haemophilus influenzae) that can cause pneumonia. The disease is most commonly found in infants and children younger than five years old. People 65 years and older, American Indians, and Alaska Natives are also at greater risk for developing H. influenzae disease.

Viral pneumonia is most often caused by the influenza virus in adults. The respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is one respiratory virus that causes pneumonia in children. There is a possibility of developing secondary bacterial pneumonia when a person has viral pneumonia, although viral pneumonia tends to be less severe. 

Pneumonia is caused by fungi such as Cryptococcus, Histoplasma, and Coccidioides. These organisms most often do not cause illness, but in some cases, they can lead to pneumonia.

Risk Factors of Pneumonia:

Anyone can be infected with pneumonia. However, the there are two age groups who have the highest risk are:

  • Children under the age of 2 years
  • Older than 65 years of age

Other risk factors include:

  • Being hospitalized. When you're in an intensive care unit, you're at higher risk of pneumonia, especially if you're using a device to help you breathe (a ventilator).
  • Chronic disease. A person with asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart disease is more likely to develop pneumonia.
  • Smoking. You are less able to fight bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia when you smoke.
  • Weakened immune system. A person with HIV/AIDS, an organ transplant recipient, or someone who receives chemotherapy or long-term steroids could be at risk.

Diagnosis of Pneumonia:

As pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose in some cases because the symptoms are so variable, they can be mistaken for a cold or influenza. A doctor will ask about your medical history, examine you physically, and do some tests in order to diagnose pneumonia and find out which germ is causing the infection.

Medical history

During your doctor's examination, he will ask you about your signs and symptoms, as well as how and when they started. In order to determine whether your infection is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi, your doctor may ask you some questions, including:

  • Recent travelling
  • Your occupation
  • Any contact with animals
  •  Any exposure to sick people at work, school, or at home
  • as well as recent illness

Physical exam

By using a stethoscope, your doctor will check and examine your lungs. As you breathe in, your dictor might hear crackling, bubbling, and rumbling sounds coming from your lungs.

Diagnostic Tests

If your doctor suspects you have pneumonia, they will most likely recommend some tests to confirm the diagnosis and learn more about your illness. These could include:

  • Blood tests will be performed to confirm the infection and to try to identify the germ causing your illness.
  • A chest X-ray will be performed to determine the location and extent of inflammation in your lungs.
  • Oxygen levels in your blood can be determined by pulse oximetry. Acute pneumonia may cause your lungs to stop supplying your bloodstream with enough oxygen.
  • A sputum test examines a sample of mucus (sputum) made after a cough to find out what caused the infection.

If you are deemed a high-risk patient due to your age and overall health, or if you are hospitalised, your doctors may order additional tests, such as:

  • A CT scan of the chest is performed to gain a better understanding of the lungs and to look for abscesses or other complications.
  • Arterial blood gas testing is used to determine the amount of oxygen in a blood sample taken from an artery, typically in the wrist. This method is more precise than the simpler pulse oximetry.
  • Pleural fluid culture, which involves removing a small amount of fluid from the tissues surrounding the lung in order to analyse and identify the bacteria causing the pneumonia.
  • Bronchoscopy is a procedure that looks into the airways of the lungs. If you are hospitalised and your treatment is not working, doctors may want to see if there is something else affecting your airways, such as a blockage. They may also collect fluid samples or perform a lung tissue biopsy.

Treatment of Pneumonia:

Pneumonia can be fatal, so it's critical to seek treatment as soon as possible. Antibiotics are the primary treatment for pneumonia, along with rest and plenty of water. If you are experiencing chest pain, you can take pain relievers such as paracetamol.

Pneumonia is treated based on its severity. Antibiotic treatment should begin as soon as possible after diagnosis. If you've been admitted to the hospital, this should happen within 4 hours.

Mild Pneumonia

If you have mild pneumonia, you may be able to treat it at home with your doctor's help, especially if you have the support of family and friends. Your doctor will likely prescribe a 5-day course of antibiotics, which you will most likely take as tablets. If you don't feel better after three days, consult your doctor; you may require a longer course of antibiotics.

More severe pneumonia

Some people are not well and  they need to be admitted to the hospital. If you are too sick to drink or take tablets, fluids and antibiotics can be administered through a drip in your arm. You will also be given oxygen if necessary, and the hospital staff will monitor your temperature and breathing patterns on a regular basis.

You will usually be given two different types of antibiotics at the same time, for a period of 5 to 7 days, but up to 10 days is possible. However, you will not have to stay in the hospital for that long.

Complications of Pneumonia:

Some people with pneumonia may still experience complications, especially those in high-risk groups:

  • Bacteremia. When bacteria enter the bloodstream from the lungs, they can cause an infection to spread to other organs, which may lead to organ failure.
  • Difficulty breathing. You may have difficulty breathing in enough oxygen if your pneumonia is severe or you have chronic lung disease. Symptoms may require hospitalization and use of a breathing machine (ventilator).
  • Fluid buildup. During pneumonia, fluid can accumulate between the thin layer of tissue that lines the lungs and chest cavity (pleura). Depending on how infected the fluid becomes, you may need to drain it with a chest tube or have it surgically removed.
  • Lung abscess. A lung abscess results from pus accumulating in a cavity. Antibiotics are usually prescribed to treat an abscess. It may be necessary to remove pus from an abscess with surgery or drainage through a long needle or tube.

Preventions of Pneumonia:

In order to reduce your risk of contracting pneumonia, there are a few things you can do, including getting anti-pneumonia vaccines for certain forms of infection, and following basic hygiene guidelines.

  • Practice good hygiene. In order to reduce exposure and spread of germs, it is a good idea to wash your hands frequently, cover your nose and mouth with tissues when coughing or sneezing, and discard used tissues in a timely manner.
  • Don’t smoke. Due to the paralysis of the protective mechanisms that your lungs set up to expel debris from your lungs, smokers are more likely to get pneumonia.
  • Get vaccinated. An important factor in preventing bacterial pneumonia is the pneumococcal vaccine. In addition to the flu vaccine, the COVID-19 vaccine can reduce your risk for pneumonia caused by coronavirus. 
  • Maintain healthy diet: Healthy diet is very important to strong your immune system, so eating foods which are rich in multivitamins are very beneficial for us.

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