What is Pneumonia and What Causes it?
Short U.S. Statistics
Pneumonia is a common infection of the lungs caused by various germs, such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi. It’s often a complication of influenza. Pneumonia can be spread via coughing, sneezing, touching or even breathing. Those who do not exhibit symptoms can also circulate the illness. Understanding the cause of pneumonia is very important because its treatment depends on this.
Viruses are the reason for approximately one-third of the pneumonia cases in the United States each year. Children and young adults are largely affected by exactly this type of pneumonia. Besides the flu virus, which is the most frequent cause of viral pneumonia, other viruses that can lead to pneumonia are the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), rhinovirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, herpes simplex virus, and more. Viral pneumonia can easily turn into bacterial pneumonia.
Here is some data for pneumonia in the U.S.
- Percent of adults at the age 65 and over who had ever received a pneumococcal vaccination: 66.9%
- Number of visits to emergency departments with pneumonia as the primary diagnosis for hospital discharge: 423,000
- Number of deaths: 51,811
- Deaths per 100,000 population: 16.1
How Serious Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a serious lung disease that kills thousands of people each year and hospitalizes many more. It tends to be more worrying for:
- infants and young children;
- older adults (people 65 years or older);
- people who have other chronic health problems;
- people who have weak immune systems as a result of diseases or other factors.
With an adequate treatment, most patients improve within one to three weeks. Debilitated or elderly patients may need a longer period of treatment.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
Pneumonia symptoms can vary from mild to severe, as this depends on the type of pneumonia, age, and health condition.
The most common symptoms include:
- A cough (Mucus can be greenish or yellow, or even bloody);
- A fever, which may be mild or high;
- Shaking chills;
- Shortness of breath, which may occur when climbing stairs.
Additional symptoms are:
- Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when breathing deeply or coughing;
- A headache;
- Excessive sweating and clammy skin;
- Low energy, strong fatigue and loss of appetite;
- Confusion, particularly in older people.
Symptoms also can vary, depending on whether pneumonia is viral or bacterial.
What Are the Risk Factors?
Anyone can get pneumonia, but some people are at a much higher risk than others. Factors that increase your chances of getting pneumonia include:
- Cigarette smoking;
- Recent viral respiratory infection such as a cold, laryngitis, influenza;
- Difficult swallowing (due to dementia, stroke, Parkinson’s disease, or other neurological conditions), which can lead to aspiration of a foreign object;
- Chronic lung diseases such as bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis or COPD;
- Other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes or liver cirrhosis;
- Impaired consciousness (loss of brain function due to dementia, stroke, or other neurologic conditions);
- Cerebral palsy;
- Recent surgery or trauma;
- A weakened immune system due to illness, certain medications, or autoimmune disorders;
How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
- Physical exam: The lungs of the patient must be listened by the doctor with a stethoscope. In case of pneumonia, lungs may make crackling, bubbling, and rumbling sounds when inhaling. in some areas of the chest, it may be even hard to hear sounds of breathing.
- Chest X-ray is applied if the doctor suspects pneumonia.
- Some patients may need other tests, including blood tests, CT (or CAT) scan, Pulse oximetry, Bronchoscopy.
Treatment of Pneumonia
Treatment for pneumonia depends on its type, its extent of severity and other chronic diseases the patient may have. The goals of this treatment are both to cure the infection and to prevent complications.
Most people can be treated at home by strictly following several steps.
- Drink lots of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
- Get much efficient rest.
- Coughing is a way that your body works to get rid of an infection. So, do not take cough medicines without a prescription from your doctor.
- Be sure you take the antibiotics as prescribed.
If pneumonia becomes so severe that the patient is treated in hospital, fluids and antibiotics are injected into their veins. Oxygen therapy and breathing are also possible treatments. The following issues require that the patient is admitted to the hospital:
- Another serious medical problem;
- Severe symptoms;
- Unable to care for himself/herself at home, or unable to eat or drink;
- Older than 65 or a young child;
- Though taking antibiotics at home, the condition is not getting better.
Recovering from Pneumonia
A healthy young person may get back to normal life within a week of recovery from pneumonia. For middle-aged or older people, it may take several weeks before they regain their feeling of well-being and usual strength.
Adequate rest is extremely important to maintain progress toward full recovery and to avoid relapse. It is not recommended to rush recovery!
After treatment with antibiotics, the doctor has to make sure the chest X-ray of the patient becomes normal again. It may take many weeks for the X-ray to clear up completely.
Can Pneumonia Be Prevented?
Yes, that’s the good news! Everyone can reduce their risk of getting pneumonia by following several simple steps.
- Get vaccinated against influenza every year. The flu virus is a common cause of pneumonia, so preventing it is a good way to prevent pneumonia.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after blowing your nose, going to the toilet, diapering, and before preparing or eating foods.
- Don’t Smoke – Tobacco damages the ability of lungs to fight off infection. Smokers have always been at higher risk of getting pneumonia.
- Pneumonia often follows respiratory infections, so it is important to be aware of any symptoms that last more than a few days.
- Healthy habits – a balanced diet, rest, regular exercise – are a serious prevention from getting sick. They also help promote fast recovery after a cold, flu or other respiratory illness.
- If you have cancer or HIV, discuss with your doctor additional ways to prevent pneumonia.