Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. Many germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi, can cause pneumonia. The air sacs in the lungs (called alveoli) fill up with pus and other fluid. This makes it hard for oxygen to reach the bloodstream. It is often spread via coughing, touching, sneezing or even breathing. However, those who don’t exhibit symptoms can also spread the illness.
Symptoms can be mild or severe. These may include a cough with phlegm, fever, chills, and trouble breathing. Most people with pneumonia can be completely cured. However, it is still the leading infectious cause of death in children younger than 5 years old worldwide says the CDC. But it can be life-threatening, and you should take it seriously even if you’re young and fit.
You can help prevent pneumonia and other respiratory infections by following good hygiene practices. These practices such as washing your hands regularly and cleaning frequently touched surfaces. Making healthy choices, such as quitting smoking and managing ongoing medical conditions, can also help prevent pneumonia. Vaccines are also available against some of the more common infectious agents that cause pneumonia.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Bacteria, viruses, and fungi infections can cause pneumonia. These infections cause inflammation in the air sacs, or alveoli, of the lungs. Pneumonia can be spread through inhaling infected droplets in the air from a cough or sneeze of an infected person. The infection can also be spread through blood (e.g. during birth). It can be triggered by a cold or bout of the flu, which allows germs to grow in the air sacs of the lungs. The infection can develop in just 1 – 3 days.
How serious Is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a serious lung disease that kills thousands every year and hospitalizes many more. Anyone of any age can contract pneumonia, but those at a higher risk are:
- People 65+ years or older
- People with medical conditions such as diabetes, cancer or a chronic disease affecting the lungs, heart , kidney or liver
- Tobacco smokers
- Babies and toddlers – particularly those born prematurely
- Those who have had a recent viral infection – such as a cold or influenza (the flu)
- Those with chronic lung conditions such as asthma, bronchitis or bronchiectasis
- People with weak immune systems
- People who drink excessive alcohol
Pneumonia can develop when a person breathes in small droplets that contain pneumonia-causing organisms. It can also occur when bacteria or viruses that are normally present in the mouth, nose and throat, enter the lungs. People in hospital for other problems sometimes develop pneumonia while they’re there.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Symptoms vary depending on a person’s age and what caused the pneumonia, but can include:
- very fast breathing (in some cases, this is the only symptom)
- breathing with grunting or wheezing sounds
- working hard to breathe; this can include flaring of the nostrils, belly breathing, or movement of the muscles between the ribs
- fever and chills
- stuffy nose
- chest pain
- abdominal pain (because a child is coughing and working hard to breathe)
- less activity
- loss of appetite (in older kids) or poor feeding (in infants). This may lead to dehydration.
- In extreme cases, bluish or gray color of the lips and fingernails
How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Sometimes it can be difficult to tell whether you have pneumonia or another kind of chest infection. If it’s not clear, your doctor may do a blood test or take a sputum sample. In addition, you may need to have a chest X-ray to confirm that you have it. Your doctor will also use your medical history, a physical exam, and lab tests to diagnose pneumonia.
You’ll also have access to oxygen if you need it. The hospital staff can regularly check your temperature and breathing to see how you’re doing. It’s very important to finish your full course of antibiotics. But don’t stop taking your antibiotics before the end of the course, even if you start to feel better.
Vaccines can prevent some types of pneumonia. Kids usually get routine immunizations against Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcus and whooping cough.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all healthy kids ages 6 months through 19 years. But especially for kids with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disorders or asthma.
There are also other things you can do in addition to the vaccine. Healthy habits, which help to keep your immune system strong, may reduce your risk of getting pneumonia. Things you can do include:
- Eating healthy diet that includes lots of fruits, vegetables, fiber, and lean protein.
- Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water.
- Get plenty of rest and physical activity
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer when you can’t wash your hands.
- Avoid exposure to people who have upper respiratory tract infections such as cold.
- Keeping children and babies away from people who have colds or the flu.
- Also, make sure to keep your nose clean and dry.
- Teach your child to sneeze and cough into their elbow instead of their hand. This can help reduce the spread of germs to others.
- Take supplements, such as vitamin C and zinc, to help boost your immune system.
- Drink lots of fluid especially water
- Stop smoking and ensure a smoke-free household
- Keeping your home warm and well-ventilated.