There's a Lot to Know and Learn About Pneumonia

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Pneumonia is an infection of the lung. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and other pathogens.

There are different kinds of pneumonia, though most cases are caused by bacteria. The disease attacks the air sacs, or alveoli in the lobes of the lungs and causes them to fill up with blood clots and, later, pus. Pneumonia is contagious and is spread through discharges from the infected person’s nose and mouth. Those most susceptible to pneumonia are the very young and the very old, people who live in unsanitary conditions and people who have compromised immune systems. People can contract pneumonia through community spread, which means they catch it outside of a medical center, and hospital spread, which means they contract pneumonia while they’re in the hospital for something else. Pneumonia can also be caught by people who live in nursing homes or who need to spend time in outpatient facilities. Aspiration pneumonia happens when a person inhales a foreign object into their lungs that causes an infection. This can be food or drink or the person’s own saliva or vomit.

The 5 Important Questions About Pneumonia

1: What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

A: The symptoms of pneumonia can vary depending on the type of pneumonia the person has. Symptoms that most forms of pneumonia have in common are a fever that can sometimes be over 102 degrees Fahrenheit, cough and chest pain. In some cases, the cough is not productive, while in others the patient coughs up sputum that may be blood-streaked. Muscle aches are common, as is fatigue. Some patients have trouble breathing or breathe rapidly, and patients with viral pneumonia may have enlarged lymph nodes in their neck.

2: What is “walking pneumonia”?

A: Walking pneumonia is also called mycoplasma pneumonia, or atypical pneumonia. It’s caused by a pathogen called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. The disease is given the name walking pneumonia because in many cases the patient’s symptoms are so mild that they do not seek care and so walk around with the disease. If there are symptoms, they include a fever, sore throat and a dry cough. The patient may also have a stuffy nose, pain in the chest or ear, wheezing or headache. They may suffer fatigue and muscle aches. Walking pneumonia is most common in children and adolescents.

3: What increases the risk of getting pneumonia?

A: The risk of contracting bacterial or viral pneumonia increases if the patient smokes or has a chronic disease. They are also at risk if they're on anticancer drugs and have had recent surgery. Other risk factors are poor overall health, including a weakened immune system. People who are in the hospital for any reason are at risk for bacterial pneumonia, as are people who have had their spleen removed, as the spleen is part of the immune system. The risk of walking pneumonia increases if the person lives in crowded quarters.

4: What are treatments for pneumonia?

A: Treatments for pneumonia depend on what kind of pneumonia the person has. People with viral pneumonia may be prescribed antiviral drugs while bacterial pneumonia can be controlled with antibiotics. Antibiotics are also useful in combating the symptoms of walking pneumonia, though the patient may still carry the pathogen for some weeks. Over-the-counter medications are useful in easing pain, and a humidifier can help breathing by injecting moisture into the air. Heating pads are used to ease chest pain. People who must go to the hospital can be treated with intravenous fluids and medications and may need to have excess fluid removed from their lung. Other patients may need breathing support.

5: What are the possible complications of pneumonia?

A: Complications of untreated pneumonia include pleurisy, which is an inflammation of the membrane that covers the lungs. A bacterial infection can spread and a viral infection that goes untreated can lead to a bacterial infection. Complications of bacterial pneumonia also include abscesses, or pus-filled areas in the lungs and damaged bronchial tubes. Complications of walking pneumonia can be rash, ear infection, sinusitis, asthma, anemia and more severe forms of pneumonia.

While pneumonia is a serious illness, it can be successfully treated. Indeed, milder cases can probably be treated at home. The best way to prevent pneumonia is to have all respiratory infections treated, and avoid risk factors if that’s possible.