Learning about Pneumonia

Each year millions of people in the United States are diagnosed with pneumonia. This infection can cause severe symptoms that, if left untreated, could be fatal. If you or a loved one have pneumonia symptoms it is important to seek a doctor’s advice as soon as possible. There are treatments available to help ease pneumonia symptoms and if caused by a bacteria, kill the bacteria making you sick. This page will provide answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about pneumonia.

Q: What is pneumonia? pneumonia.

A: Pneumonia is a type of infection that causes the alveoli in your lungs to fill up with fluid or pus. This infection occurs when bacteria, viruses, or fungi get into the respiratory system. The severity of pneumonia depends on the patient, but it tends to have a more serious effect on children, elderly people, and people who have compromised immune systems. Adults may have compromised immune systems due to the presence of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, and other chronic medical problems.

Q: What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

A: The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can mimic the symptoms of other respiratory disorders, so it is important to see a doctor if they occur. The most common symptoms of pneumonia are fever, cough, sweating, chills, shaking, shortness of breath, and chest pain that occurs upon inhaling or exhaling. People with pneumonia may also develop fatigue, muscle pain, and other flu-like symptoms.

Q: What causes pneumonia?

A: Several types of organisms cause pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is one of the most common types, with Staphylococcus aureus, Klebsiella pneumoniae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria responsible for causing community-acquired pneumonia. Viral organisms that cause the flu and colds may also cause pneumonia. They also increase the risk for bacterial pneumonia. Although less common, parasitic organisms and fungi can also cause pneumonia. These types of pneumonia typically develop in people who have traveled to certain foreign countries. People who spend a lot of time in hospitals, nursing homes, or skilled nursing facilities have a greater risk of pneumonia because it is possible for bacteria to enter IV catheters and other tubes used to deliver medications or treat existing health conditions.

Q: My family member/coworker has pneumonia. Can I catch pneumonia from them?

A: Pneumonia is contagious because it is a type of infection; however it is unlikely the person being infected with the bacteria or virus will actually get pneumonia. They are more likely to get a cold or flu from the infected person which can cause pneumonia if not treated. The infectious organisms spread when someone with pneumonia coughs and then another person breathes in the same air.

Q: How is pneumonia diagnosed?

A: Pneumonia is diagnosed with a physical examination and an x-ray. During the physical examination, a doctor listens to the lungs with a stethoscope. This helps detect the presence of fluid in the lungs. The x-ray can confirm the presence of fluid in the air sacs of the lungs.

Q: Can I prevent pneumonia? How?

A: Yes, it is possible to prevent pneumonia in some cases. The American Lung Association recommends that those at high risk for pneumonia get the pneumococcal pneumonia vaccine. The ALA also recommends that people get a flu shot every year to prevent the flu virus from causing pneumonia. Avoiding smoking and maintaining good hygiene practices are also ways to prevent pneumonia.

Q: How is pneumonia treated?

A: The treatment given for pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia a person has. Antibiotics do not kill viruses, so people with viral pneumonia may have to wait until the virus goes away on its own. There are cough medicines and other remedies to treat the symptoms of viral pneumonia. People with bacterial pneumonia take antibiotics to kill the bacterial organisms. Some of the antibiotics used to treat this type of pneumonia include erythromycin, doxycycline, moxifloxacin, and azithromycin.

Q: How many people get pneumonia each year? Is it more frequent in children or adults?

A: More than 3 million Americans develop pneumonia each year. This disease is more common in children than it is in healthy adults, but some adults have a higher risk of pneumonia. Elderly people, adults who live in nursing homes, and adults with other health problems have a greater risk of developing this disease.

Q: How has the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia changed over time?

A: Advances in technology have made it easier to diagnose pneumonia over time. X-Rays now help physicians confirm the presence of pneumonia, but in the past, X-rays were not available. Physicians are also able to distinguish between pneumonia caused by bacteria and pneumonia caused by other organisms, making it possible to prescribe effective medications. In the past, it was difficult to tell if pneumonia was caused by a bacterial organism or another type of organism, meaning that some people did not receive the correct treatment in a timely manner.

Q: Where can I find more information about pneumonia?

A: The Internet has a great deal of information about pneumonia, but it is important to seek medical attention if pneumonia symptoms develop. This disease can cause serious complications if not treated properly, so schedule an appointment with a physician if a persistent cough or other pneumonia symptoms occur. Medical databases and libraries are also a good source of information about this disease.

  • Pneumonia Overview: PubMed Health provides an overview of pneumonia, particularly what factors put people at risk for developing the disease.
  • Causes of Pneumonia: This article from the Mayo Clinic explains which organisms cause pneumonia.
  • Pneumonia Symptoms in Adults, Children, and the Elderly: WebMD distinguishes between the symptoms of pneumonia in healthy adults and the symptoms of pneumonia in children and the elderly.
  • Pneumonia Statistics: This resource explains that pneumonia is a leading killer of children under the age of 5, as some children with the disease do not get the right medical care.
  • FastStats for Pneumonia: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers statistics on pneumonia in the United States.
  • Pneumonia Treatment: This article from the University of Maryland Medical Center explains the treatments available for pneumonia.
  • Preventing Pneumonia: The American Lung Association discusses how to prevent pneumonia by getting vaccinated, avoiding cigarettes, and washing the hands properly.
  • Pneumococcal Vaccine (PDF): This resource provides information about the pneumonia vaccine.
  • More Patients May Be Treated at Home: The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality explains the results of a study indicating that some pneumonia patients may be able to recover from pneumonia in the comfort of their own homes.
  • Herbal Remedies for Pneumonia Symptoms: New Mexico State University lists some of the herbs available to treat pneumonia symptoms. The author explains that herbs cannot cure pneumonia, but they may be able to ease coughing and respiratory irritation.
  • How Do I Know I Have Pneumonia?: The American Thoracic Society answers some common questions about pneumonia.
  • Pneumonia Cases Decline, Incidence of Complication Goes Up: This newsletter article discusses the increased number of pneumonia cases that lead to a complication called empyema.
  • Viral Pneumonia: This resource offers an overview of viral pneumonia, a type of pneumonia that develops due to exposure to influenza, adenovirus, and other viral organisms.
  • Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia: This article from The Merck Manual for Health Care Professionals website explains how hospital patients may acquire pneumonia.
  • Diagnosis and Treatment of Community-Acquired Pneumonia: This article discusses the tests used to diagnose pneumonia and outlines the techniques physicians use to manage the disease.
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