Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment and Prevention

It is a lung infection that can make you very sick. It presents with cough, fever and trouble breathing.

For most people, it can be treated at home. It often gets better in 2 to 3 weeks, but older adults, babies, and people with other illnesses can get very sick. They may need to be in the hospital.

You can get pneumonia in your daily life, such as at school or work. This is called pneumonia associated with the community. You can also get it when you are in a hospital or nursing home.

This is called pneumonia associated with health care. It can be more serious because at the same time the person suffers from another disease. This topic focuses on the pneumonia that is contracted in daily life.

What causes pneumonia?

Germs called bacteria or viruses usually cause pneumonia.

Pneumonia usually begins when you breathe the germs in your lungs. You are more likely to have the disease after having a cold or flu.

These diseases make it difficult for your lungs to fight infections, making it easier to get pneumonia. Having a long-term or chronic illness such as asthma, heart disease, cancer or diabetes also makes you more likely to get pneumonia.

What are the symptoms?

The symptoms of pneumonia caused by bacteria usually appear quickly. They can include:

  • Cough. It is likely to expel mucus (sputum) from the lungs, the mucus may be oxidized, green or blood stained.
  • Fever.
  • Rapid breathing and feeling short of breath.
  • Shaking chills.
  • Chest pain that often gets worse when you cough or breathe.
  • Accelerated heartbeat.
  • Feeling very tired or very weak
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.

When you have mild symptoms, your doctor may call this “ambulatory pneumonia.”

Older adults may have different symptoms, minor or mild. It is possible that they do not have a fever. Or they may have a cough but without excess mucus.

The main sign of pneumonia in older adults may be a change in the way a person thinks. Confusion or delirium is common. Or, if they already have a lung disease, that disease can get worse.

The symptoms caused by viruses are the same as those caused by bacteria. But they can appear slowly and, often, are not so obvious or so bad.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and perform a physical exam. He or she can order a chest x-ray and a complete blood count (CBC).

This is usually enough for your doctor to know if you have pneumonia. You may need more tests if you have severe symptoms, are older or have other health problems. In general, the sicker you are, the more evidence you will need.

Your doctor can also examine the mucus in your lungs to find out if the bacteria are causing your pneumonia. Finding out what is causing your pneumonia can help your doctor choose the best treatment for you.

Treatment

If pneumonia is caused by bacteria, your doctor will give you antibiotics. These almost always cure pneumonia caused by bacteria. Be sure to take the antibiotics exactly as directed.

Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You must take the complete antibiotic treatment.

Pneumonia can make you feel very sick. But after taking antibiotics, you should start to feel much better. Call your doctor if you do not start to feel better after 2 to 3 days of antibiotics. Call your doctor right away if you feel worse.

There are things you can do to feel better during your treatment. Rest a lot, sleep and drink plenty of fluids. Do not smoke. If your cough keeps you awake at night, talk to your doctor about using cough medicine.

You may need to go to the hospital if you have severe symptoms, a weak immune system or other serious illness.

Pneumonia caused by a virus is usually not treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, antibiotics can be used to prevent complications. But treatment at home, such as rest and cough care, is usually all that is needed.

How can it be prevented?

Experts recommend immunization for children and adults. Children receive the pneumococcal vaccine as part of their routine immunizations.

Two different types of pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for people over 65 years of age. If you smoke, or have a long-term health problem, it is a good idea to get the pneumococcal vaccine.

It may not prevent you from getting pneumonia. But if you contract pneumonia, you’re probably not so sick.

You can also get a flu vaccine to prevent the flu, because sometimes people get pneumonia after having the flu.

It can also reduce your chances of getting pneumonia by moving away from people who have the flu, measles, or chickenpox.

You may have pneumonia after suffering from one of these diseases. Wash your hands often, this helps prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria that can cause pneumonia.