Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that may be caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The infection causes the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli) to become inflamed and fill up with fluid or pus. That can make it hard for the oxygen you breathe in to get into your bloodstream.
The people most at risk are infants and young children, adults 65 or older, and people who have other health problems.
Pneumonia is a leading cause of hospitalization in both children and adults. Most cases can be treated successfully, although it can take weeks to fully recover.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Pneumonia symptoms can vary from so mild you barely notice them, to so severe that hospitalization is required. How your body responds to pneumonia depends on the type germ causing the infection, your age and your overall health.
The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include:
• Cough, which may produce greenish, yellow or even bloody mucus
• Fever, sweating and shaking chills
• Shortness of breath
• Rapid, shallow breathing
• Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
• Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
• Nausea and vomiting, especially in small children
• Confusion, especially in older people
The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or suddenly. Fever may rise as high as a dangerous 105 degrees F, with profuse sweating and rapidly increased breathing and pulse rate. Lips and nailbeds may have a bluish color due to lack of oxygen in the blood. A patient’s mental state may be confused or delirious.
Symptoms may vary in certain populations. Newborns and infants may not show any signs of the infection. Or, they may vomit, have a fever and cough, or appear restless, sick, or tired and without energy. Older adults and people who have serious illnesses or weak immune systems may have fewer and milder symptoms. They may even have a lower than normal temperature. Older adults who have pneumonia sometimes have sudden changes in mental awareness. For individuals that already have a chronic lung disease, those symptoms may worsen.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be caused by a wide variety of bacteria, viruses and fungi in the air we breathe. Identifying the cause of your pneumonia can be an important step in getting the proper treatment.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Anyone can get pneumonia, but many factors can increase your chances of getting sick and having a more severe illness. One of the most important factors is your age. People age 65 and over are at increased risk because their immune system is becoming less able to fight off infection as years go by. Infants and children two years of age or younger are also at increased risk because their immune systems are not yet fully developed.
Other risk factors can be grouped into three main categories: medical conditions, health behaviors, and environment.
• Chronic lung diseases such as COPD, bronchiectasis, or cystic fibrosis that make the lungs more vulnerable.
• Other serious chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes and sickle cell disease.
• A weakened immune system due to HIV/AIDs, an organ transplant, chemotherapy or long-term steroid use.
• Difficulty swallowing, due to stroke, dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or other neurological conditions, which can result in aspiration of food, vomit or saliva into the lungs that then becomes infected.
• Recent viral respiratory infection—a cold, laryngitis, influenza, etc.
• Hospitalization, especially when in intensive care and using a ventilator to breathe.
• Cigarette smoking, which damages the lungs.
• Drug and alcohol abuse, which increase the risk of aspiration pneumonia.
• Exposure to certain chemicals, pollutants or toxic fumes, including secondhand smoke.
If you think you or your child has symptoms of pneumonia, don’t wait for the disease to get even worse before you seek care. See your doctor right away if you have difficulty breathing, develop a bluish color in your lips and fingertips, have chest pain, a high fever, or a cough with mucus that is severe or is getting worse.
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Credit: American Lung Assoc.