What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. It is a highly contagious disease which can be serious and life-threatening. Viral and bacterial pneumonia can spread to others through inhalation of airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough. They can also spread onto shared objects through touch. Fungal pneumonia though does not spread from person to person.
When pneumonia occurs the lungs get inflamed, and the tiny air sacs, or alveoli, inside the lungs fill up with fluid making it difficult to breathe.
Anybody can contract pneumonia, however, this illness can be fatal for older adults, infants, people with weak or impaired immune systems, or people suffering from other infections and diseases such as asthma, heart disease, cystic fibrosis, cancer, or diabetes. Hence, though pneumonia can be treated at home, older adults, babies, and people with other diseases need to be hospitalised.
How does pneumonia occur?
Pneumonia starts when you inhale the germs into your lungs.
Pneumonia causes inflammation in the air sacs in your lungs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli fill up with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe.
Pneumonia can be classified according to how the germs were inhaled:
Aspiration Pneumonia: This type of pneumonia occurs when you take in the bacteria through food, drink, or saliva into your lungs
Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia (VAP): occurs when patients using ventilators contract pneumonia
Pneumonia can also be classified according to where it was contracted:
Hospital Acquired Pneumonia (HAP): is contracted when one visits a hospital. This can be very serious compared to other types of pneumonia as the bacteria can be highly resistant to antibiotics
Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP): refers to pneumonia which is contracted outside any hospital or institutional setting
One is more prone to the disease if he/she suffers from a cold or the flu since one’s immune system is already weak. Having a long-term, or chronic, disease such as asthma, heart disease, cancer, or diabetes, also makes you more likely to get pneumonia.
Who is prone to pneumonia?
Some people are more prone to pneumonia than others:
infants upto 2 years of age, and older adults who are above 60 years
people who have had a stroke and have problems swallowing, or are bedridden
people who take medicines for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
people who are recovering from a cold or influenza infection
people suffering from malnutrition
people with weak immune systems
people who are drug addicts, or heavy smokers, or alcohol drinkers
people who are repeatedly hospitalized
have been exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants
What are the causes of pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be classified according to the according to the organism that causes the infection:
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. Young children and older people are especially at a risk of viral pneumonia. Viral pneumonia lasts for a shorter time than bacterial pneumonia.
Mycoplasma pneumonia: Mycoplasma organisms are neither viruses nor 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: This form of pneumonia is caused by fungi from soil or bird droppings. It occurs when people inhale large amounts of the organisms. They can also cause pneumonia in people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia? How is pneumonia diagnosed?
Some common symptoms of pneumonia include:
coughing that will produce mucus
chest pain which worsens while coughing
fast breathing and feeling short of breath
shaking and 'teeth-chattering' chills
nausea and vomiting
During the process of diagnosis, your doctor will first gather your medical history. He will perform a physical exam, including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope. He may ask you to undergo additional tests such as:
Blood tests: to confirm if any infection is present and if so identify the organism causing the infection.
Chest X-ray: which helps to find out the location and extent of the infection.
Pulse oximetry: this test measures the oxygen level in your blood as pneumonia can decrease the supply of oxygen to the body.
CT scan: which will provide a detailed image of your lungs.
Pleural fluid test: a needle is placed between your ribs and a fluid sample is taken from the pleural area to be analyzed and determine the type of infection.
- Sputum test: a fluid sample is taken from your lungs after you cough deeply to determine the cause and type of infection.
What are the complications of pneumonia?
The complications of pneumonia include:
Bacteremia: which is a serious complication where the bacteria spreads from the initial location into the blood. This condition can lead to septic shock which can be fatal.
Lung abscesses: which is a condition where necrosis of the lung tissue occurs. Cavities form in the lungs containing necrotic debris or fluid caused by microbial infection. This condition is treated with antibiotics or surgery.
Pleural effusions, empyema, and pleurisy: these conditions involve inflammation of the tissue layers (pleura) lining the lungs and inner chest wall. If this happens, you may need to have the fluid drained through a chest tube or removed with surgery.
Renal failure: a condition in which kidneys lose the ability to remove waste and balance fluids.
- Respiratory failure: caused due to blockage in the lungs.
What is the treatment for pneumonia?
Your doctor may treat you with antibiotics, cough medicines, and fever reducers.
If your age is above 60 years, you may need to be hospitalized, based on the severity of your condition.
If it is a child (below 2 years) who is suffering from pneumonia, he/she will need to be hospitalized.
Questions answered by trusted doctors
Did you know?
Highest pneumonia deaths
India has the highest number of pneumonia deaths in the world.
Nearly 3 lakh children died
Nearly three lakh children died of pneumonia in India in 2016.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of disease in children
Pneumonia remains the leading infectious cause of death among children under five.
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