What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type in adults.
Pneumonia causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
Pneumonia symptoms can be mild to life-threatening. The most common symptoms of pneumonia can include:
- coughing that may produce mucus
- fever, sweating, and chills
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Other symptoms can vary according to the cause and severity of the infection, as well as the age and general health of the individual.
Symptoms by cause
- Viral pneumonia may start with flu-like symptoms, such as wheezing. A high fever may occur after 12–36 hours.
- Bacterial pneumonia may cause a fever as high as 105°F along with profuse sweating, bluish lips and nails, and confusion.
Symptoms by age
- Children under 5 years of age may have fast breathing.
- Infants may vomit, lack energy, or have trouble drinking or eating.
- Older people may have a lower-than-normal body temperature.
What are the types and causes of pneumonia?
Bacterial pneumonia: The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Chlamydophila pneumonia and Legionella pneumophila can also cause bacterial pneumonia.
Viral pneumonia: Respiratory viruses are often the cause of pneumonia, especially in young children and older people. Viral pneumonia is usually not serious and lasts for a shorter time than bacterial pneumonia.
Mycoplasma pneumonia: Mycoplasma organisms are not viruses or bacteria, but they have traits common to both. Mycoplasmas generally cause mild cases of pneumonia, most often in older children and young adults.
Fungal pneumonia: Fungi from soil or bird droppings can cause pneumonia in people who inhale large amounts of the organisms. They can also cause pneumonia in people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems.
Another kind of fungal pneumonia is called Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP). This condition generally affects people with weakened immune systems, such as those with AIDS. In fact, PCP can be one of the first signs of infection with AIDS.
Pneumonia can also be classified according to how it is acquired.
Aspiration pneumonia: This type of pneumonia occurs when you inhale bacteria into your lungs from food, drink, or saliva. This type is more likely to occur if you have a swallowing problem or if you become too sedate from the use of medications, alcohol, or some types of illicit drugs.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP): When people who are using a ventilator get pneumonia, it’s called VAP.
Is pneumonia contagious?
Most kinds of pneumonia are contagious.
Both viral and bacterial pneumonia can spread to others through inhalation of airborne droplets from a sneeze or a cough. But while you can become infected with fungal pneumonia from the environment, it doesn’t spread from person to person.
Risk of pneumonia?
Anyone can get pneumonia, but certain people are at higher risk:
- infants from birth to age 2 years, and individuals ages 65 years or older
- people who have had a stroke, have problems swallowing or are bedridden
- people with weakened immune systems because of disease or use of medications such as steroids or certain cancer drugs
- people who smoke, misuse certain types of illicit drugs or drink excessive amounts of alcohol
- people with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or heart failure
Tests or pneumonia diagnosis
Your doctor will try to know about when your symptoms first appeared and about your medical history. They’ll also give you a physical exam. This will include listening to your lungs with a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds, such as crackling.
Your doctor will also likely order a chest X-ray. Typically, pneumonia can be diagnosed with the physical exam and the chest X-ray. But depending on the severity of your symptoms and your risk of complications, your doctor may also refer to these tests:
- A blood test. This test can confirm infection, but it may not be able to identify what’s causing it.
- A sputum test. This test can provide a sample from your lungs that may identify the cause of the infection.
- Pulse oximetry. An oxygen sensor placed on one of your fingers can indicate whether your lungs are moving enough oxygen through your bloodstream.
- A urine test. This test can identify the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila.
- A CT scan. This test provides a clearer and more detailed picture of your lungs.
- A fluid sample. If your doctor suspect there is fluid in the pleural space of your chest, they may take fluid using a needle placed between your ribs. This test can help identify the cause of your infection.
- A bronchoscopy. This test looks into the airways in your lungs. It does this using a camera on the end of a flexible tube that’s gently guided down your throat and into your lungs. Your doctor may do this test if your initial symptoms are severe, or if you’re hospitalized and your body is not responding well to antibiotics.
COPD and pneumonia
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a collection of lung diseases that cause blocked airways and make breathing difficult. It can result in serious complications.
People with COPD are more likely to develop pneumonia. Pneumonia is particularly dangerous for people with COPD because it causes an increased risk of respiratory failure. This is when your body is either not getting enough oxygen or isn’t successfully removing carbon dioxide.
Some people aren’t sure if their symptoms are from pneumonia or from worsening COPD. This can cause them to wait to seek treatment, which is dangerous.
Flare-ups of COPD symptoms, known as an exacerbation, can be confused with symptoms of pneumonia. That’s because they’re very similar.
These can include shortness of breath and tightening of your chest. Often, the similarities in symptoms can lead to underdiagnoses of pneumonia in those with COPD.
Bronchopneumonia or Lobular pneumonia
Pneumonia is a category of lung infections. It occurs when viruses, bacteria, or fungi cause inflammation and infection in the alveoli (tiny air sacs) in the lung.
Bronchopneumonia, or lobular pneumonia, is a type of pneumonia that also causes inflammation in the bronchi. These are the air passages that feed air into the lungs.
Someone with bronchopneumonia may have trouble breathing because their airways are constricted. Due to inflammation, their lungs may not get enough air. Symptoms of bronchopneumonia can be mild or severe.
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