Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis

Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection in one or both lungs. When you have pneumonia, the tiny air sacs inside your lungs fill with fluid or pus. Coughing, chest pain, and breathing difficulty are all possible signs. 

Pneumonia can affect anyone. Young children, older individuals, and persons with preexisting medical disorders that weaken the immune system are the people most at risk of contracting pneumonia. These same individuals are at a higher risk of acquiring pneumonia complications. 

The symptoms of pneumonia in adults and children, as well as the causes, diagnosis, and therapy, are discussed in this article. We also provide information on the causes of pneumonia, its complications, and how to prevent it. 

Fast facts on pneumonia

  • Pneumonia is a lung infection that can affect people of all ages and cause mild to severe sickness.
  • It is the biggest cause of infection-related death in children under the age of five worldwide.
  • Pneumonia and influenza are the eighth and ninth major causes of death in the United States, respectively.
  • Older persons, the very young, and people with underlying health conditions are all at risk for pneumonia.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of pneumonia usually resemble those of a cold or flu. A person may then develop other symptoms, which can vary depending on the type of pneumonia a person has.

Common symptoms include:

  • A cough that may produce green, yellow, or even bloody phlegm may be caused by a cough that produces green, yellow, or even bloody phlegm.
  • Fast breathing and shortness of breath
  • The chest pain usually worsens when taking a deep breath.
  • fast heartbeat
  • fever, sweating, and chills.
  • fatigue
  • Confusion or delirium, especially in older adults,
  • loss of appetite.
  • Nausea and vomiting

Types

Pneumonia types differ depending on their cause. The different types and their associated causes include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia: Many bacterial strains can cause pneumonia, but the most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae (S. pneumoniae). A doctor may refer to pneumonia resulting from this strain as pneumococcal pneumonia.
  • Viral pneumonia: Viral causes of pneumonia include The respiratory syncytial virus and influenza types A and B.
  • Fungal pneumonia can result from a condition such as valley fever, caused by the Coccidioides fungus.
  • Aspiration pneumonia: This type occurs as a result of inhaling food, liquids, or stomach contents into the lungs. Aspiration pneumonia is not contagious.
  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia can occur in people receiving hospital treatment for other conditions that involve the use of a respirator or breathing machine.

Regardless of the cause of pneumonia, the signs and symptoms will be similar.

Walking pneumonia

Walking pneumonia is a non-medical term that describes a mild case of pneumonia with cold-like symptoms. The condition is so-called because people with this type of pneumonia typically do not require bed rest and can continue their usual daily activities.

Despite the name, people with walking pneumonia should rest as much as possible to speed up their recovery. Resting also reduces the risk of spreading the pneumonia-causing pathogens to other people.

Most people with walking pneumonia begin to feel better within 3–5 days. They can take over-the-counter (OTC) medications to ease any symptoms during this time.

Treatment

Treatment for pneumonia depends on the type and severity of pneumonia.

The main types and their associated treatments include:

  • Bacterial pneumonia: Treatment is usually with antibiotics.
  • Viral pneumonia: Treatment is not usually necessary, tho a doctor may prescribe antiviral medications if influenza is the cause.
  • Fungal pneumonia: Treatment usually involves antifungal medications.

Doctors commonly prescribe OTC medications to help manage the symptoms of pneumonia. These can help with the following symptoms:

  • cough
  • fever
  • aches and pains

Whatever the cause of pneumonia, it is important that people rest and drink plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps thin out thick phlegm and mucus, making it easier to cough up.

Hospitalization

Hospitalization for pneumonia may be necessary if symptoms are severe or a person has a weakened immune system or other serious illness.

In the hospital, people may receive intravenous antibiotics and fluids. They may also need a supplemental oxygen supply.

In children

In most cases, a child’s immune system will protect them from developing pneumonia. If a child does develop pneumonia, it is usually due to a virus.

Symptoms in children may include

  • difficulty breathing or breathing loudly
  • Not feeding as they usually do
  • Coughing
  • fever
  • Irritability
  • dehydration

Toddlers may complain of pain in their chest or stomach and vomit after coughing.

Treatment includes plenty of rest and a regular fluid intake. A doctor may suggest OTC medications to help ease symptoms such as abdominal problems or coughing, but these medicines will not help treat pneumonia.

Adults should not smoke around children, especially if the child has pneumonia.

Causes

Infectious organisms, such as bacteria and viruses, are the most common causes of pneumonia. Coughing and sneezing, as well as polluting surfaces that people contact, can spread these infections. 

Pneumonia-causing microorganisms are usually contracted by inhaling them into the small air sacs, or alveoli, in the lungs. 

The immune system responds by sending white blood cells to fight the infection, resulting in alveolar inflammation. Pneumonia occurs when the alveoli swell with fluid and pus.

Risk factors

Most at-risk and trusted sources of developing pneumonia are those who:

  • are under 5 years old or over 65 years old.
  • If you have recently recovered from a cold or influenza infection,
  • Those with underlying conditions, such as:
    • Cystic fibrosis
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
    • asthma
    • conditions that affect the kidneys, heart, or liver.
  • One may have a weakened or impaired immune system, which may occur as a result of several conditions, including:
  • Take medicine for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Experience malnutrition
  • smoke tobacco, consume large amounts of alcohol, or both.
  • have been exposed to certain chemicals or pollutants.
  • I haverecently been hospitalized in an intensive care unit.

Complications

Pneumonia can cause complications.

These are more common among the following groups of people:

  • young children
  • older adults
  • People with certain preexisting health conditions may be

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Trusted Source, some potential complications of pneumococcal pneumonia include:

  • Empyema: An infection of the space between the membranes that surround the lungs and chest cavity.
  • Pericarditis: inflammation of the sac, or pericardium, surrounding the heart.
  • Endobronchial obstruction: a blockage of the airway that allows air into the lungs.
  • Atelectasis: a complete or partial collapse of an entire lung or an area within the lung.
  • Lung abscess: a collection of pus in the lungs This is a rare complication that mostly occurs in people with serious underlying medical conditions or a history of alcohol misuse.

Other possible complications of pneumonia include:

  • Pleurisy: inflammation of the thin membranes between the lungs and ribcage that can lead to respiratory failure.
  • Septicemia: an infection in the blood that originated elsewhere in the body.
  • Sepsis is a life-threatening immune reaction to septicemia that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure, and death.

Prevention

There are two different vaccines to help prevent pneumococcal disease, the most common bacterial cause of pneumonia.

The vaccines protect against a wide variety of pneumococcal infections. While they may not completely protect older adults from pneumonia, they can significantly reduce the risk of pneumonia and other infections caused by S. pneumoniae, including blood and brain infections.

There are two pneumonia vaccines available. As discussed below, healthcare professionals offer them to different ages. Trusted Source groups:

Pneumococcal conjugate vaccine

The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is a pneumococcal vaccine that doctors may refer to as Prevnar or PCV13. Doctors recommend PCV13 for the following groups:

  • children under 2 years old, as PCV13 is a typical part of an infant’s routine immunizations
  • those ages 2 years or above who have certain underlying medical conditions

Pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine

The pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is a pneumococcal vaccine that doctors may also refer to as Pneumovax or PPSV23. Doctors recommended PPSV23 for the following groups:

  • people between the ages of 2 and 64 who have underlying medical issues such as diabetes
  • Chronic heart, lung, or kidney illness is a condition in which the heart, lungs, or kidneys
  • Surgical removal of the spleen has resulted in the absence of a spleen.
  • Adults between the ages of 19 and 64 who smoke cigarettes
  • all people above the age of 65

Other preventative measures

Along with vaccinations, doctors recommend the following measures to help prevent pneumonia:

  • Regular hand washing
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose.
  • Refraining from smoking
  • Eating a balanced, nutritious diet
  • Exercise regularly
  • Staying away from people who have pneumonia, or being extra vigilant about hygiene when around people who are unwell,

Diagnosis

A doctor will usually ask about a person’s symptoms and medical history and carry out a physical examination. The physical exam may include listening to the chest through a stethoscope and measuring blood oxygen levels using a pulse oximeter attached to the finger.

A doctor may suspect pneumonia if they hear the following when listening to the chest through a stethoscope:

  • coarse breathing
  • wheezing
  • crackling
  • decreased breath sounds

If doctors suspect pneumonia, they may order additional tests, including:

  • Chest X-rays: These can confirm a pneumonia diagnosis and show which areas of the lungs are affected.
  • A chest CT scan: this scan can provide more detailed images of the lungs.
  • A white blood cell (WBC) count is a blood test that measures levels of WBCs in the blood. This helps determine how severe the infection is and whether bacteria, viruses, or fungus is the likely cause.
  • An arterial blood gas test is a blood test that can provide a more accurate reading of the body’s oxygen and carbon dioxide levels and other factors.
  • Blood cultures: These may reveal whether the microorganism from the lungs has spread into the bloodstream.
  • Sputum analysis: tests the sputum to determine which pathogens are responsible for the pneumonia.
  • Bronchoscopic: A procedure that involves passing a bronchoscope into the lungs while a person is under anesthesia. The bronchoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached, which enables the doctor to directly examine infected parts of the airways and lungs. A doctor may recommend this procedure when further investigation is necessary.

Summary

Pneumonia is usually due to an infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal). People can also develop pneumonia after inhaling contaminated food, water, or saliva into their lungs.

Young children, elderly individuals, and persons with prior medical disorders that impair their organs or weaken their immune systems are more likely to develop this lung ailment.

These people are also at a higher risk of serious pneumonia complications. As a result, individuals should take extra precautions to avoid pneumonia, such as taking a pneumococcal vaccine.

Whatever the cause of pneumonia, treatment includes getting lots of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.

A doctor may recommend additional treatments depending on a person’s pneumonia type, symptoms, and overall health. People should contact their doctor if their symptoms persist or worsen.

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