Pneumonia is an infection hurting one or both the lungs, leading to inflamed alveoli or air sacs. The infected lungs shed dead cells and leak fluids, which leads to clogged-up air sacs and difficulty for the lungs to fill the blood with oxygen. This results in breathing difficulties.

The germs enter the body through the nose, mostly during sleep, and are more likely to infect the lungs. A healthy individual’s throat and nose invariably house pneumonia-causing viruses or bacteria.  

Though typically common and mild, some forms of pneumonia may require intensive hospitalized care. Also, victims are likely to feel weak or tired for some weeks post recovery.

Cause

A bacterial infection is the culprit in most cases, but a virus, parasite or fungus may have caused havoc too. For instance, viruses like influenza A or the flu virus could cause pneumonia.

The germs that enter the body through the nose settle in the alveoli (small air sacs) and keep multiplying. When the white blood cells arrive to ambush the infection, it results in the sacs getting filled with pus and fluid – leading to pneumonia.  

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), plague, anthrax, tularemia, etc. could also cause pneumonia.

Types

Pneumonia can primarily be divided on the basis of its intensity and route.

  • Bacterial Pneumonia: There are different types of bacterial pneumonia such as streptococcus pneumonia, klebsiella pneumonia, haemophilus influenzae, mycoplasma pneumonia, legionella pneumonia, chlamydia pneumonia, etc.   
  • Viral Pneumonia: Viral pneumonia is the flu virus left behind by pneumonia, which could lead to serious or fatal effects. Rhinovirus, adenoviruses, respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus, and parainfluenza virus are the causes for this pneumonia. 
  • Fungal Pneumonia: Coccidioidomycosis, histoplasmosis, cryptococcosis, and aspergillosis are pneumonia-causing fungal infections.
  • Aspiration Pneumonia: This type of pneumonia is rare and caused by inhaling odour of vomit, or a harmful chemical or substance such as smoke.

Then there are other more non-scientific pneumonia types.

  • Community-Acquired: This pneumonia type may affect anyone, anytime – at home, work or during a vacation.
  • Hospital-Acquired or Nosocomial Pneumonia: Some may even contract the disease during a nursing home or hospital stay. The germs pertaining to this pneumonia type may be antibiotic-resistant, but an antibiotic treatment cannot be completely ruled out.

Vulnerability

Pneumonia can entrap anyone – healthy and young people; but babies and older adults are more likely to be affected, thanks to their weaker or impaired immune system. Pneumonia is more likely to affect in the case of:

  • Stroke patients, bedridden individuals, or people with swallowing or malnutrition issues.
  • Infants (0-2 years) and senior adults (above 65 years).
  • Drug abusers (including excessive smoking and alcohol consumption).
  • Exposure to specific pollutants or chemicals.
  • Specific medical conditions such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, heart failure, AIDS/HIV, emphysema, tuberculosis and diabetes.

People are likely to catch pneumonia after a flu or common cold. Those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease, asthma, diabetes or cancer are also vulnerable. Individuals with a weaker immune system are more likely to be infected, since their natural defense mechanism isn’t strong enough to ward off the germs responsible for the disease.

Signs and Symptoms

Generally, bacterial pneumonia symptoms show up quicker than viral pneumonia alert signs. In fact, quite strangely, people in the high-risk group (kids and senior adults) may exhibit little or mild symptoms. A flu or cold is usually the starting point, which could later graduate to chills, high fever and sputum-filled cough. The following are the general pneumonia symptoms:

  • Fever (longer lasting)
  • Chest pain
  • Wheezing
  • Dry cough
  • Muscle aches
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Increased heartbeat or breathing
  • Breathing difficulties
  • Purplish or dusky skin tone due to improperly oxygenated blood

Diagnosis

For proper diagnosis, chest X-rays and blood tests will be needed. The X-ray helps determine infection presence in the lungs. Blood tests are more accurate and confirm the stage of bloodstream infection. As a part of the process, the physician will inquire the patient about:

  • Apparent symptoms and their date and time of occurrence
  • Recent travel expeditions
  • Any exposure to animals and sick individuals
  • Medical history and current medications
  • Recent illnesses or vaccinations
  • Lifestyle (smoking, alcohol, etc.)

Other tests such as a CT scan (a detailed x-ray), sputum test, pulse oximetry test, urine antigen test and bronchoscopy could be needed too.

Doctors usually suspect pneumonia upon hearing coarse breathing, crackling sounds, wheezing, or rumblings while putting the stethoscope to the patient’s chest.

Treatment and Complications

Pneumonia treatment varies with individuals and the disease type and its severity. Antibiotics are usually used to treat bacterial pneumonia. Antifungal medications and fluids are used to treat fungal pneumonia and viral pneumonia, respectively.

To manage and clear the symptoms, over-the-counter (OTC) drugs can be taken. The symptoms include fever, pains and aches, suppressing coughs, etc. Hospitalized individuals or people with serious pneumonia or poor immune system could be subjected to intravenous antibiotics and oxygen.

Most pneumonia treatments don’t lead to complications, but there are exceptions. The problems could be due to the disease or drugs used for treatment. In some cases, chronic health conditions such as congestive heart failure or emphysema may get worse. Some pneumonia treatment complications are:

  • Fluid accumulation: Fluid could gather between the lungs covering (pleura) and chest wall’s inner lining.
  • Abscess: A pus collection in the pneumonia-infected area, which can be cured with antibiotics.
  • Bacteremia: A complication when the pneumonia infection spreads to the blood. This is a much more serious issue since all other organs are likely to be affected too.
  • Death: Though rare, the possibilities cannot be ruled out.

Pneumonia Prevention

In several cases, pneumonia can be prevented through anti-flu and anti-bacterial pneumonia vaccines. A vaccine called Prevnar is administered to kids younger than two years, or sick kids within the 2-4-year age group. Prevnar is often part of standard infant immunization methods.

Adults are provided another vaccine called Pneumovax, which tackles or brings down pneumonia risks. Senior adults, diabetics, people with chronic lung, kidney or heart disease, smokers, alcoholics, etc. are given the vaccine.      

More general prevention techniques include regular hand-washing, healthy diet and proper exercise, and zero smoking or drinking. Besides, a lot of fluid consumption (especially warm water), sleep and rest are recommended to keep pneumonia at bay.