Infection In Lungs – Why You Should Not Take Pneumonia Lightly
In India, every two minutes, 1 child under the age of 5 dies due to pneumonia, says a report. And the most disturbing fact is that the condition is very well preventable. In the year 2015, pneumonia globally claimed over 9 lakh lives of children under the age of 5. Let’s learn more about one of the leading causes of death in children.
Pneumonia is the infection of the lungs causing inflammation in the air sacs. The condition can lead to fluid or pus buildup in the air sacs which causes several symptoms including problem in breathing. Pneumonia can range from mild to severe. It’s important to take this condition seriously especially in the children and older adults who are most vulnerable.
How you catch pneumonia? Is it contagious?
Most types of pneumonia are contagious. One can catch pneumonia virus and bacteria by inhaling airborne droplets or from sneezing or coughing. Fungal pneumonia doesn’t spread from person to person as the fungi are itself present in the environment.
Types and causes of pneumonia - Classification
For better understanding, pneumonia can be categorized by the cause of infection, mode of transmission and location of the infection.
By type of organism
Bacterial pneumonia – In developing nations like India, about 50 percent of pneumonia cases are due to bacteria. The most common culprit are Streptococcus pneumonia and Legionella pneumophila.
Viral pneumonia – Viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in children under 5 and older people. Typically, viruses that cause cold and flu also cause pneumonia. This type of pneumonia is less serious and lasts for a short period of time.
Mycoplasma pneumonia – Mycoplasma are bacteria like organisms that typically induce mild symptoms. This type of pneumonia is also called as walking pneumonia which is common in children.
Fungal pneumonia – Common in individuals with a weak immune system and chronic health problems, this type of pneumonia occurs due to fungi in soil or bird droppings.
By type of transmission
Aspiration pneumonia – You get aspiration pneumonia through inhalation of bacteria present in food, drink or saliva. This is more common in people who feel difficulty in swallowing. It can also occur due to excess consumption of alcohol or illicit drugs.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP) – People who are on breathing machines or ventilator, are often the victim of this pneumonia. As the name denotes, it typically affects critically ill person or people with very weak immune system.
By type of location
Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) – This is a more serious type of pneumonia as the person who gets it is already sick and the bacteria might be more resistant to antibiotics as well.
Healthcare-acquired pneumonia – Also known as community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), this type of pneumonia mainly affects people who live in healthcare facilities or similar settings. This is also a serious type of pneumonia as bacteria are resistant to antibiotics.
Symptoms of pneumonia – From mild to life-threatening
The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can vary from person to person and from mild to severe. It also involves other factors such as age and general health. Below are symptoms of pneumonia in infants, children, and adults.
Symptoms in newborns and infants
Newborns or infants might not show any signs. But when they show, they can suffer from:
- Lack of energy or tiredness
- Difficulty feeding and breathing
- Rapid breathing rate (tachypnea) 50 breaths/minute
Whooping Cough - Complications of Pertussis In Infants Teens And Adults
Symptoms in toddlers and children
In young children, the symptoms might be mild and not severe to force them to stay at home. The symptoms may suddenly become worse and develop other signs and symptoms.
- Low-grade fever
- Dry cough or with phlegm in white, yellow-green or blood-tinged
- Rapid respiratory rate (tachypnea) 40 breaths/minute for children aged 1-5 years
- Rapid respiratory rate (tachypnea) 30 breaths or more/minute for children aged above 5 years
- Nasal flaring or tightening of neck muscles
- Wheezing (breathe with a whistling sound)
- Bluish lips due to lack of oxygen (cyanosis)
Symptoms in adults
Adults especially those over the age of 65 years can show severe symptoms of pneumonia. A quick medical response is needed whenever below symptoms appear:
- Cold symptoms such as runny nose, mild cough, low grade fever and sore throat
- Chest pain while breathing and coughing
- Fatigue or muscle aches
- Sweating and chills
- Shortness of breath
- Mental confusion
- Gray or bluish color due to lack of oxygen
- Low body temperature
- Nausea or vomiting
Who are at risk of getting pneumonia?
Any person can get pneumonia but some people fall in the high risk group. These include:
- Newborn and infants under 2 years of age
- Older adults above 65 years of age
- People with weak immune system
- Individuals suffered from stroke or having problem in swallowing
- People who smoke, consume excessive alcohol or illicit drugs
- People with chronic medical problems such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, heart failure and diabetes
Diagnosis of pneumonia – Get ready for plenty of tests
At the first appointment, the doctor will be physically examining the patient, followed by questions on the timing of symptoms and medical history. The doctor would be using a stethoscope for hearing abnormal sounds getting through your lungs.
Further, you would through one or more of the following examinations:
Chest X-ray – This is a typical method of diagnosing pneumonia. It helps the doctor determine the range of the location of the infection.
Blood test – This test is ordered to confirm the type of organism, however blood test can’t figure out precise cause.
Urine test – For identifying bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae and Legionella pneumophila.
Pulse oximetry – A device placed on the fingers can calculate the levels of oxygen in the blood.
Sputum test – The doctor will extract a sample fluid from the lungs in order to pinpoint the cause of infection.
For older people above the age 65, the doctor can order additional tests.
CT scan – If the infection is not clearing up, chest CT scan will give detailed visuals of the lungs
Pleural fluid culture – Pleura is the thin membrane around the lungs. This culture test will check the presence of fluid in this area and help identify the cause of infection.
Treatment of pneumonia
Treatment will depend on several factors including the type, severity and general health. Generally, the doctor will recommend following treatment:
- Antibiotic, antiviral and antifungal medicines are given depending on the cause of infection. Cases of bacterial pneumonia can be treated at home by using prescribed oral antibiotics.
- Over the counter medications such as ibuprofen and aspirin can be taken to get relief from pain and fever.
- Cough medicines can calm down coughing so that you can take rest.
Serious cases need to be referred to the hospitals. Especially, if the symptoms are giving rise to other health problems such as loss of kidney function, change in blood pressure and heart rate, rapid breathing, etc. These cases usually occur in infants and older people.
At the hospital, all these things can be promptly checked. The affected person may need:
- Antibiotics administered intravenously
- Respiratory therapy for delivering specific medicines directly into the lungs
- Oxygen therapy for maintaining proper oxygen level in the blood
- Ventilator in case of serious breathing problems
Prevention – Why vaccination is extremely important?
In developed countries, active vaccination programmes have weeded out the majority of the pneumonia cases. In India, though the vaccinationis being conducted under country's Universal Immunization Programme (UIP), the country is still behind from its actual goal set by WHO.
Talk to your doctor for vaccination schedule as guidelines have changed over these years. Currently, following vaccination schedule is being implemented for preventing pneumonia in children.
- First dose - At 6 weeks
- Second dose – At 10 weeks
- Third dose – At 14 weeks
- Booster dose – Between 15-18 months
In most of the cases, people will respond to treatment and recover from pneumonia. But for some people, it could be a nightmare as the condition can inflict complications such as impaired breathing, abscesses in lungs, respiratory failure and even death.
So, it’s better to put a defensive wall against pneumonia well in advance and i.e. timely vaccination. Though immunization will not prevent all the cases of pneumonia, but the vaccinated person will get less severe illness as well as lower risk of complications. So, maintain a healthy lifestyle, try quitting smoke and alcohol and practice proper hygiene. Last but not the least, talk to your doctor and get vaccinated today.
1. Pneumonia Symptoms, Causes, and Risk Factors(2018, March 30). American Lung Association read more
2. Pneumocystis pneumonia (2017, April 26). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention read more
3. Pneumonia (2017, August 21). National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute read more
4. Overview of Pneumonia (2017, March). Merck Manual read more
5. Barson WJ (2018, March 30). Community-acquired pneumonia in children: Clinical features and diagnosis read more
6. Thomas JM, et al.(2017, June 26). Patient education: Pneumonia in adults (Beyond the Basics) read more