Information Source on Pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Many different organisms can cause it, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.

Pneumonia can range from mild to severe, and can even be deadly. The severity depends on the type of organism causing pneumonia, as well as age and underlying health.

The majority of deaths during the worldwide influenza flu pandemic of 1918 which was estimated to have killed between 50-100 million people worldwide in a short time period of just 18 months were not caused by the influenza virus acting by itself, report scientists from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (National Institutes of Health). Instead, most victims passed-away as a result of "bacterial pneumonia" which was preceded by influenza virus infection. The pneumonia was caused when bacteria which commonly reside in the nose and throat invaded the lungs using a pathway created when the virus destroyed the cells lining the bronchial tubes and lungs.

Pneumonia is a surprisingly common illness which affects millions of people worldwide every year.

Bacterial pneumonias tend to be the most serious and, in adults, the most common cause of pneumonia. The most common pneumonia-causing bacterium in adults is Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).

Respiratory viruses are the most common causes of pneumonia in young children, peaking between the ages of 2 and 3. By school age, the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae becomes more common.

In some people, particularly the elderly and those who are debilitated, bacterial pneumonia may follow influenza or even a common cold.

People who have trouble swallowing are at risk of aspiration pneumonia. In this condition, food, liquid, or saliva accidentally goes into the lung airways. It is more common in people who have had a stroke, Parkinson's disease, or previous throat surgery.

It is often harder to treat pneumonia in people who are in a hospital, or a nursing facility.

Other types of pneumonia are:

Symptoms of Pneumonia

The main symptoms of pneumonia are:

Exams and Tests for Pneumonia

If you have pneumonia, you may be working hard to breathe, or may be breathing fast.

Crackles are heard when listening to your chest with a stethoscope. Other abnormal breathing sounds may also be heard through the stethoscope or via percussion (tapping on your chest wall).

The health care provider will likely order a chest x-ray if pneumonia is suspected.

Some patients may need other tests, including:

Treatment of Pneumonia

If the cause is bacterial, the doctor will try to cure the infection with antibiotics. If the cause is viral, typical antibiotics will NOT be effective. Sometimes, however, your doctor may use antiviral medication. It may be difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia, so you may receive antibiotics.

Patients with mild pneumonia who are otherwise healthy are usually treated with oral macrolide antibiotics (azithromycin, clarithromycin, or erythromycin).

Patients with other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or emphysema, kidney disease, or diabetes are often given one of the following:

Fluoroquinolone (levofloxacin (Levaquin), sparfloxacin (Zagam), or gemifloxacin (Factive), moxifloxacin (Avelox)
High-dose amoxicillin or amoxicillin-clavulanate, plus a macrolide antibiotic (azithromycin, clarithromycin, or erythromycin)
Many people can be treated at home with antibiotics. If you have an underlying chronic disease, severe symptoms, or low oxygen levels, you will likely require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics and oxygen therapy. Infants and the elderly are more commonly admitted for treatment of pneumonia.

You can take these steps at home:

Outlook / Prognosis of Pneumonia

With treatment, most patients will improve within 2 weeks. Elderly or debilitated patients may need treatment for longer.

Your doctor will want to make sure your chest xray becomes normal again after you take an anti-biotics regimen.

Possible Complications of Pneumonia

Empyema or lung abscesses are infrequent, but serious, complications of Bacterial Pneumonia. They occur when pockets of pus form around or inside the lung. These may sometimes require surgical drainage.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your doctor if you have the following symptoms:

Prevention of Bacterial Pneumonia

  1. Wash hands frequently, especially after blowing nose, going to the bathroom, diapering, and before eating or preparing foods.
  2. Don't smoke. Tobacco damages your lung's ability to ward off infection.
  3. Wear a mask when cleaning dusty or moldy areas.

Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions:

Taking deep breaths may help prevent pneumonia if you are in the hospital -- for example, while recovering from surgery. Often, a breathing device will be given to you to assist in deep breathing.

If you have cancer or HIV, you should talk to your doctor about additional ways to prevent pneumonia.

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