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What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection that affects the tiny air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli. When you have pneumonia, these air sacs get inflamed and fill with fluid making it harder for you to breathe.

Causes

Many different germs can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Dozens of different type of bacteria can cause pneumonia. The most common type of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia caused by a bacterium called streptococcus pneumoniae.

Atypical pneumonia is caused by bacteria such as Legionella pneumophila, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and Chlamydophila pneumoniae. Other bacteria that can cause pneumonia include Staphylococcus aureus, Moraxella catarrhalis, Streptococcus pyogenes, Neisseria meningitidis, Klebsiella pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae.

Viral Pneumonia

The flu virus is a common cause of viral pneumonia in adults. Other viruses that cause pneumonia include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus, herpes simplex virus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, and more.

Symptoms

Pneumonia symptoms vary depending on the type of pneumonia you have, your age and any underlying lung disease.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

  • Cough (with some pneumonias you may cough up greenish or yellow mucus, or even bloody mucus)
  • Fever, which may be mild or high
  • Shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath, which may only occur when you climb stairs

Additional symptoms include:

  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating and clammy skin
  • Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
  • Confusion, especially in older people

Diagnosis

The doctor may suspect pneumonia based on your symptoms and his/her physical exam.

A chest X-Ray is done next for confirmation.

Some patients may require additional testing:

  • Blood test to check white blood cell count and to try to know the germ which may be in your blood as well.
  • Arterial blood gases to see if enough oxygen is getting into your blood from the lungs.
  • CT (or CAT) scan of the chest to get a better view of the lungs.
  • Sputum tests to look for the organism (that can be detected in the mucus collected from you after a deep cough) causing your symptoms.
  • Pleural fluid culture if there is fluid in the space surrounding the lungs.
  • Pulse oximetry to measure how much oxygen is moving through your bloodstream, done by simply attaching a small clip to your finger for a brief time.

Treatment

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia you have and how severe it is, and if you have other chronic diseases. The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and prevent complications.

Most people can be treated at home by following these steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
  • Get lots of rest. Have someone else do household chores.
  • Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
  • Make sure you take antibiotics as prescribed.

Sometimes, it becomes necessary to hospitalize the person. People who may need hospital admission generally:

  • Have another serious medical problem.
  • Have severe symptoms.
  • Are unable to care for themselves at home, or are unable to eat or drink.
  • Are older than 65 or a young child.
  • Have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better.

If your pneumonia becomes so severe that you are treated in the hospital:

  • You will get fluids and antibiotics through a drip in your arm.
  • You’ll also have access to oxygen if you need it, and the hospital staff can regularly check your temperature and breathing to see how you’re doing.
  • You’ll usually be given two different kind of antibiotics at the same time. You may have to take antibiotics for seven to ten days – but you won’t necessarily have to stay in hospital that long.

Recovery

Once you start taking antibiotics, your symptoms should begin to improve.

Recovery times vary a lot from person to person and depend on your general health, age and how severe your pneumonia is.
You’ll recover gradually and can help by eating well, exercising and doing deep breathing exercises.
At first, you’ll need plenty of rest. As you begin to feel better, you can start to be a bit more active, but don’t push yourself.

A healthy young person may feel back to normal within a week of recovery from pneumonia. For middle-aged or older people, it may be weeks before they regain their usual strength and feeling of well-being.

A person recovering from mycoplasma pneumonia may be weak for an extended period of time. Adequate rest is important to maintain progress toward full recovery and to avoid relapse. Don’t rush recovery!

If you have taken antibiotics, your doctor will want to make sure your chest X-ray becomes normal again after you finish the whole prescription. It may take many weeks for your X-ray to clear up.

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