What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a lung infection that can range from mild to severe in the patient. It causes the alveoli or air sacs in your lungs to fill with fluid or pus (in extreme cases). Because of this, you will have a hard time breathing. Also, as the oxygen doesn’t reach your bloodstream you’ll feel rather tired too.

Anyone suffering from pneumonia will acquire breathing issues, which can further affect one or both their lungs if medical treatment is not provided on time. It is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

If pneumonia is bacterial or viral, it can spread to other people around you as well. While pneumonia is contagious, children under the age of two and senior citizens over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. This is because their immune systems are weak and unable to fight against it. For adults, negative lifestyle habits such as smoking or drinking can increase the risk of contracting pneumonia.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

 Source: VeryWell

  1. Pain in the chest while coughing or even breathing

  2. For senior citizens, pneumonia symptoms may include confusion or changes in mental awareness

  3. Cough with resultant phlegm

  4. Fatigue

  5. Fever, sweating and/or shaking chills

  6. For senior citizens and those with low immunity levels, pneumonia symptoms will show up as their body temperature is lower than normal

  7. Diarrhoea, nausea or vomiting

  8. Shortness of breath

While the initial symptoms of pneumonia may be like a regular cold or cough or viral fever, it is important to get these checked out in time to make sure they don’t become more harmful over time.

When to See a Doctor?

Consult a doctor when you have difficulty in breathing, chest pain, persistent fever/cough, etc. People with existing health conditions should immediately seek a doctor’s assistance. This is especially vital for –

  • People aged above 65 years

  • Children aged below 2 years of age

  • People with weakened immune systems

Besides, any person exhibiting pneumonia symptoms who also have underlying heart conditions and are receiving chemotherapy or taking medication to suppress the immune system should also ideally go to a doctor if they show persistent symptoms over a period.

Types of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is usually classified based on where the infection was contracted by the patient. These could include community-acquired pneumonia, hospital-acquired pneumonia, healthcare-acquired pneumonia and aspiration pneumonia. Wondering what each of these are? Well, read on to learn the difference between them.

Type of Pneumonia

Details

Aspiration Pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia can occur when food or water or even saliva and vomit enter the lungs. Aspiration becomes more likely when the normal gag reflex is disturbed, such as due to a brain injury or problems with swallowing; or even excessive use of drugs or alcohol.

Healthcare-acquired Pneumonia:

This bacterial infection is likely to occur in people living in long-term care facilities or even those availing care at outpatient clinics such as for kidney dialysis procedures. The bacteria causing healthcare-acquired pneumonia are likely to be more resistant to antibiotic treatment.

Community-acquired Pneumonia

This is the most common type of pneumonia, which is caused outside of healthcare facilities. Community-acquired pneumonia can be caused in the following ways:

  • The most common cause is the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae. Pneumonia caused due to it can either occur by itself or after the patient has suffered a cold.

  • Bacteria-like organisms such as mycoplasma pneumoniae can also cause pneumonia, though its symptoms are milder. The disease caused by this isn’t severe and does not necessarily require bed rest.

  • Pneumonia caused by fungi is most common among those with weakened immunity or chronic health problems. While the type of fungi varies depending on the geographical location, they are most commonly found in soil or bird droppings.

  • Pneumonia can also be caused due to the viruses that lead to cold and the flu. While this type of pneumonia is usually quite mild, it can often become very severe too.

Hospital-acquired Pneumonia

This type of pneumonia can occur after long stays at hospitals and is usually more severe as the people who contract it are already unwell while the bacteria causing it could be resistant to antibiotics.

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Given that the germs causing pneumonia are contagious, it can spread from person to person. Viral and bacterial pneumonia can spread to other people via inhalation of airborne droplets caused due to sneezing and coughing of the infected person.

So, if you (a healthy individual) encounter the surface or infected person, you can contract the virus or bacteria causing pneumonia. When it comes to fungal pneumonia, it does not spread from person to person. However, you can contract fungal pneumonia from the infected surroundings.

Pneumonia Risk Factors

Age is one of the highly concerned risk factors when contracting pneumonia. The following two age groups are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia:

  1. Children below the age of two years.

  2. Senior citizens above the age of 65 years.

Besides this, a few other risk factors for pneumonia include the following.

  • When you are hospitalised and kept in the intensive care unit

  • If you have chronic diseases such as heart-related concerns and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • If you have indulge in smoking or drinking often, which, in turn, can weaken your immune system

  • In case you already have a weak immune system and/or existing health conditions such as HIV/AIDS or cancer

How to Prevent Pneumonia?

Owing to the pervasiveness of the disease globally, several preventive measures are recommended against developing pneumonia. Read on to learn more about these.

  • Vaccination:

Vaccination against pneumonia can significantly reduce the risk of contracting the disease but does not eliminate it. There are two major types of vaccines against pneumonia, namely, the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine (PCV13 or Prevnar 13) and pneumococcal vaccine (PPSV23 or Pneumovax23). PCV13 forms part of the standard vaccination protocol for infants and protects against 13 types of bacteria that can result in serious infections in both children and adults.

  • Quit Smoking:

The increased consumption of tobacco reduces the lung’s capacity to defend itself against infection, thereby making you more prone to a disease like pneumonia. If you want to minimize the risk of developing pneumonia, cigarettes need to be avoided.

  • Stay Clean & Healthy:

Make sure to wash your hands frequently in warm water with soap; when you can’t wash your hands, use an alcohol-based sanitiser. It is also important to avoid coming into physical contact with ill people, as this might lead to contamination.

  • Get Plenty of Rest:

Make sure to follow a healthy, balanced diet which includes an equitable representation of vegetables, fruits, fibre and lean proteins.

Pneumonia Diagnosis

Your doctor will begin the diagnosis by asking you a few questions related to the symptoms and your existing health conditions (if any). In simple words, your medical history will be considered before any further steps are taken. It will also include information related to your lifestyle habits and routine.

Besides, the doctor will examine your breathing. In case you have pneumonia, there will be cracking or rumbling sounds when you breathe. So, if the doctor thinks that you might have the disease, they will ask you to undertake the following tests.

  • Blood Tests to check for bacterial infection

  • Chest X-Ray to find how far the infection in your lungs has spread

  • Pulse oximetry to check the level of oxygen in your blood

  • Sputum test to check the fluids in your lungs for any possible infection

In case you have any underlying health conditions, the doctor will ask you to undergo a few more tests.

  • Arterial Blood Gas test to check the oxygen level in a small amount of blood sample taken from your arteries

  • Bronchoscopy to check for possible blockages or issues in your airways

  • CT Scan to get thorough details of your lungs

  • Pleural Fluid Culture, wherein the doctor removes a small amount of fluid as a sample from the tissues around your lungs to test for bacterial infections

Pneumonia Complications

A few health complications that can arise during pneumonia are as follows:

  1. Bacteremia: Here, the bacteria spread into your blood and can cause septic shocks and organ failure.

  2. Breathing Issues: You might need a breathing machine for comfort until your lungs heal.

  3. Fluid Buildup: The fluid buildup in between the layers of tissues that line your lungs and chest cavity can become infectious.

  4. Lung Abscess: Pockets of pus known as Abscess can form inside or around the lungs.

Pneumonia Treatment

The treatment for pneumonia will depend on your health at the time you consult your doctor.

  • In case of bacterial pneumonia, the doctor will prescribe you antibiotics. Ensure that you complete the medical course, even after you’ve started feeling better.

  • When it comes to viral pneumonia, antibiotics may not help. What’s necessary in that case is to rest, drink a lot of fluids, and take medication for fever. If the symptoms become severe over time or you’ve any other existing health conditions, your doctor might suggest you get hospitalized.

No matter what type of pneumonia you contract, the recovery takes time. You will need rest at least for a month until you get back to your routine.

Home Remedies for Pneumonia

There are no such home remedies that can treat pneumonia. However, there are a few things that you can do to ease the symptoms.

  • As coughing is one of the most common symptoms, you can gargle with salt water or drink peppermint tea.

  • Also, OTC pain medication and cool compresses work wonders to relieve the fever.

  • Try drinking warm water or a nice warm bowl of soup to help with the chills.

While these home remedies can help to ease the symptoms of pneumonia, it is essential to consult a doctor for proper treatment.

Conclusion

Pneumonia symptoms may appear to be like milder illnesses such as colds or the flu at the start, but they need to be kept in check early on to ensure complete treatment. In critical cases, your doctor can recommend hospitalisation and intensive medical treatment under their observation for recovery. If you are worried about the hospitalisation and medical expenses, you can contact your insurance provider and check whether the treatment for pneumonia is covered in your health insurance plan. That way, you continue to recover in peace without having to worry about the finances.

It is imperative to understand that pneumonia is a treatable disease. You can recover from it if you take the necessary precautions and complete the medication course prescribed by the doctor. Ensure that you seek the right medical assistance, especially if the symptoms are severe or have other health complications.

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