Pneumonia – Symptoms, treatment, causes and diagnosis

Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs in one or both lungs making them fill with fluid or pus.

Pneumonia - symptoms, treatment and causes

Around 1 million Americans are diagnosed with pneumonia each year and out of those approximately 50,000 die from the disease. This information is from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pneumonia infection can also vary from mild to being severe. Deaths are very common in children below the age of 5 years and adults above 65 years.

Symptoms of Pneumonia can take 1 – 10 days to appear after infection.

This can either be caused by a virus, bacteria, fungi or parasites.

Types of pneumonia

There are 11 types of pneumonia and the classification depends on the causative agent and how you get the disease.

The types of Pneumonia are;

  • Viral Pneumonia – This is caused by a viral infection. It is believed that almost half of the reported cases are of this type. The virus enters the lungs then multiplies thus causing inflammation.
  • Aspiration Pneumonia – This type results when you accidentally inhale food, drink, or vomit into the lungs. This particularly causes the lungs and bronchial tubes to inflame. This mostly happens in the right lung because it is bigger than the left lungs. Immediate therapy should be administered if this happens.
  • Bronchopneumonia – This starts with an infection at the bronchi and bronchioles which causes the terminal bronchioles to get blocked and form patches.
  • Atypical Pneumonia – This is caused by bacteria and it does not respond to the treatment with normal antibiotics.
  • Hospital-acquired Pneumonia – This is developed by a patient after getting hospitalized for a different disease. It usually appears 72 hours after getting hospitalized.
  • Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia – This type is usually developed after a person who requires mechanical breathing support is intubated. It is usually very hard to manage it and it can easily lead to death.
  • Bacterial Pneumonia – This is caused by the attack of bacteria in the lungs which then multiplies causing inflammation of alveoli and thus the accumulation of fluid or pus.
  • Pneumocystis carinii Pneumonia – This type is caused by fungi. It is normally noticeable in people with a weak immune system.
  • Walking Pneumonia – It is also called Mycoplasma Pneumonia. It is caused when the mycoplasma spreads all over the lungs and thus causing infection.
  • Community-acquired Pneumonia – This is among the most common types of Pneumonia. It is usually gotten at home from a person who is already infected but has not been hospitalized yet.
  • Lobar Pneumonia –

Stages of pneumonia

The four stages of Pneumonia are;

  • Consolidation stage – This is the initial stage of Pneumonia infection. It usually occurs within the first 24 hours. The main symptoms that depict this stage are coughing and deep breathing.
  • Red hepatization – At this stage neutrophils, fibrin, red blood cells, and erythrocytes fill the alveoli. It usually occurs 2 – 3 days after the consolidation stage.
  • Grey hepatization – At this stage, lungs become grey-yellow due to the disintegration of red blood cells and excess fibrinopurulent exudates. Leukocytes then enter into the alveoli. This stage usually takes after 2 – 3 days of Red hepatization
  • Resolution stage –

Causes

The main causes of Pneumonia are bacteria, fungi, and viruses. When these harmful organisms enter into the lungs and find the immune system is weak, the chances of Pneumonia occurring will be very high.

There are other possible risk factors of Pneumonia and they include;

  • Age – Pneumonia is very common among children of below 5 years and adults above 65 years. This could be because of their possibly weak immune systems.
  • Having a chronic disease – Having asthma or heart disease can easily propagate Pneumonia. This is because the two diseases also have several effects on the respiratory system thus when it becomes severe other disease also dominate.
  • Smoking – Smoking is also another factor that can easily cause this disease to set in. This is because it damages the immune system and makes the respiratory system, especially lungs vulnerable to infection.
  • Weak immune system – Having a weak immune system makes your body vulnerable to infections and thus diseases like Pneumonia can easily set in.
  • Being on mechanical breathing support – Having a piped breathing support can easily cause bacteria to settle in your lungs and multiply and this leads to Pneumonia.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Signs and symptoms of Pneumonia can vary depending on whether the infection is mild or severe. They can also vary depending on your age and overall health. The signs can delay or appear earlier on the two main factors(age and health)

The common signs and symptoms of Pneumonia are;

  • Pleuric chest pain
  • Cough with sputum or phlegm
  • Fever and chills
  • Muscle ache
  • Fatigue
  • Shortness of breath can be witnessed
  • Sharp chest pain
  • Joint pain
  • High heart rate
  • Headache
  • Mood changes
  • Nausea and bleeding
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid breathing and sometimes shallow breathing
  • Breathing sounds like grunting and wheezing.

Small children usually show signs of nausea and vomiting.

Complications caused by Pneumonia

Pneumonia infection weakens your immune system. This will make your body vulnerable to other complications and it can even become more serious if not treated.

Body complications caused by Pneumonia are;

  • Kidney failure – This is a very serious condition and it usually develops if the kidneys fail to get enough blood circulation. Severe Pneumonia infection which leads to hospitalization can easily cause kidney failure.
  • Bacteremia – Bacteremia is a condition whereby the bacteria in the affected areas such as lungs spreads into the blood system. This condition can cause the infection to spread to all the body parts and it becomes life-threatening
  • Breathing difficulties – This is a common condition when having Pneumonia. Once your body does not get enough oxygen and the respiratory tract is clogging, you will be forced to look for an alternative. The best alternative for this is getting hospitalized and starting to use ventilation support for breathing.
  • Pleural effusion – Pleural effusion is the build-up of excess fluid in the lungs. This is a very serious condition and it is usually associated with Pneumonia
  • Lung abscess – Lung abscess is an infection in the lungs that is caused by a bacterial infection and this causes pus to collect in the affected area. This can easily be treated with the use of antibiotics.

Prevention measures

Prevention of pneumonia can involve;

  • Quitting smoking
  • Washing hands regularly with soap and other detergents.
  • Having enough rest
  • Eating healthy protein-rich foods
  • Getting vaccinated early
  • Reducing alcohol consumption
  • Practicing general good hygiene
  • Drinking clean water always
  • Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months can help boost the immunity of the baby.
  • Good house ventilation for clean air
  • Regular exercise

Diagnosis of Pneumonia

There are several methods that can be used by a doctor to diagnose the disease.

The following are the possible methods that can be used for diagnosis;

  • Physical exam – Your doctor will listen to your chest for any abnormal breathing like crackling, bubbling or rumbling sounds and wheezing whenever you breathe. For this test, the doctor will use a stethoscope.
  • Medical examination – The doctor will ask for the signs and symptoms you experience and when did they start. You will also be asked about your lifestyle for example if you smoke, take alcohol or hobbies.
  • Chest X-ray – The doctor will use this to determine the extent of the infection. It will also help in determining inflammation and which part is infected. The only drawback of this method is it will not tell which bacteria caused the disease.
  • Blood test – This test can be used to determine your immunity. It can also be used to determine the actual organism causing the infection
  • Blood culture – This can be used to determine if the bacteria has spread to the blood so that an appropriate treatment method can be administered.
  • Sputum test – After a deep cough your doctor will take a sample of your cough for testing to determine the cause of the disease.
  • Pulse oximetry – This test is used to determine the amount of oxygen in your blood. Pneumonia infection can reduce oxygen circulation into the bloodstream.
  • Arterial blood gas test – This test is an alternative to pulse oximetry if a person is very sick. The doctor will get a sample of your blood and test it for oxygen level in it.
  • CT Scan – CT Scan is more detailed than X-ray because it will show all the possibly affected areas. Your doctor can recommend this if they feel other methods have not provided satisfactory information.
  • Pleural fluid culture – This test involves obtaining a small fluid from the pleural space and then tested to determine the actual bacteria causing Pneumonia.
  • Bronchoscopy – This procedure involves observing the airways in the lungs. Your doctor can decide to use this procedure if you are not responding to treatment.

Treatment of Pneumonia

There are different methods that can be used in the treatment of this disease and this is determined by your age and the extent of the disease.

The different treatment methods of pneumonia are;

  • Use of antibiotics – This is mainly used in the treatment of bacteria once the diagnosis has been done successfully
  • Pain relievers – This can be used to reduce pain and fever
  • Cough medicine – This can be used to cure and reduce cough.
  • Home remedy – This is mostly used in the treatment of community-acquired Pneumonia.
  • Breathing therapy
  • Analgesic administration
  • Oxygen therapy

Recovery

Recovery from Pneumonia after treatment can take time. Most people take about a week to recover fully but in some people, it can take up to around six weeks to fully recover, especially from walking Pneumonia.

Bacterial Pneumonia always starts improving a few hours after the administration of antibiotics while viral Pneumonia in most people starts showing signs of recovery after about three days.

Elderly people always take around 6 – 10 weeks to recover due to their somehow weak immune system.

According to a research that was carried out on Pneumonia patients 90 days after treatment, it was found that some symptoms in some patients had not yet cleared after the three months. The symptoms included fatigue/tiredness, shortness of breath and weakness.

Common signs and symptoms of Pneumonia in babies

There are very crucial symptoms that you should look out to know if your baby has Pneumonia or not.

The symptoms of Pneumonia in babies are;

  • Fever of above 38 degrees Celsius
  • Breathing too fast
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Bluish or gray fingernails or lips

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