What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a disease affecting the lungs. You have two lungs. This disorder can affect one or both. When you have this disease, your lungs or lung as the case may be, are swollen from bacterial, viral, or fungal invasion. The microbial invasion occurs in bag-like structures called air sacs. The lungs have many of these sacs. The presence of any of these microbes will make the air sacs get swollen with pus. When this happens, breathing will become difficult.
This disease is more common in adults than in children.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
The disease is one lung infection that can be between two extremes. It can be mild. It can also be very severe and hence life-threatening. Its symptoms have so much relationship with the overall health status and age of the person affected.
The following are not atypical of the disorder:
- coughs stained with mucus
- shortness of breath
- chest pain
Symptoms by cause
- Viral pneumonia – Most times, it starts with symptoms that resemble the flu. These symptoms are wheezing. After 12-36 hours of the onset of wheezing, fever can set in.
- Bacterial pneumonia – It may precipitate a body temperature well close to105°F. This can occur together with confusion, profuse sweating, blue-colored nails,
Symptoms by age
- When kids below age 5 have this disorder, their breathing rate may be really fast.
- Infants with this disease may puke, experience body weakness, and have appetite loss.
- Aged people may experience a body temperature that falls below normal.
What are the types and causes of pneumonia?
Pneumonia has its major classification based on its cause, and where and how it was contracted.
Types by causative germ
Bacterial pneumonia: Streptococcus pneumonia is the leading bacterium causing this disease. It is not uncommon for Legionella
Viral pneumonia: Respiratory viruses are responsible for viral pneumonia especially in the aged and young people. When viral pneumonia is compared to bacterial pneumonia, its frequency of occurrence is lesser. Also, a viral form of this disease doesn’t take a
Mycoplasma pneumonia: Mycoplasma is an organism that shares both features of viruses and bacteria. The pneumonia they cause isn’t the serious type and is often common in young people.
Fungal pneumonia: Fungus is another germ that can make you develop pneumonia. ‘Fungi’ is the plural of fungus. Fungi are mostly seen in the soil. Droppings from birds can also cause fungus to spread in the air. When inhaled in amounts that are large, they can make you have pneumonia.
If your immune system isn’t strong or you have any chronic disease, you can easily have fungal pneumonia.
Pneumocystis jirovecii pneumonia (PCP) is a fungal pneumonia and can actually be a prime signal that one has AIDS.
Types by location
This disease is also classified according to where can be acquired from.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP): From the name, it can be said that pneumonia is acquired in the course of one’s stay in the hospital. This is one type of pneumonia that is stronger than the other types. HAP may be very resistant to certain antibiotics.
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP): This type is contracted from non-medical settings.
Types by how they are acquired
Aspiration pneumonia: This type is contracted when food, saliva, or food is the source where the bacteria are inhaled from. You are more likely to have this variant of pneumonia if you have become sedated due to illicit drug or alcohol use. If you have issues with swallowing foods, you might also be predisposed to aspiration pneumonia.
Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP): Its cause is from ventilator use.
Is pneumonia contagious?
Most, not all forms of this disorder types are contagious. Sneezing and coughing are fast avenues by which this disease caused by virus and bacterium are spread. These germs are usually suspended in droplets that are borne in the air. Hence, they can pass from one who has the infection to one who doesn’t.
Fungal pneumonia doesn’t pass from one person to another. In a nutshell, it cannot be passed from person to person. It can only be contracted from highly infested environments.
Who is at risk of this disease?
This disease can be acquired by anybody. Notwithstanding, certain persons will likely contract it faster than others.
These people are:
- infants below 2 years old
- adults more than 65 years old
- people with swallowing problems
- people with compromised immune systems due to certain disorders or medication use (i.e. cancer and steroid medications)
- heavy smokers
- alcohol addicts
- illicit drug users
- asthma, stroke, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or heart failure patients
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
Upon meeting with your doctor, questions relating to your symptoms will be investigated into.
The scope of the questions will include when you first had some of the symptoms and how you felt. You will be asked whether people in your family have this disorder.
Further investigative tests will be necessary. These tests are:
- A blood test. A blood test can confirm the presence of infection only. It doesn’t have the wherewithal to reveal the cause of the infection.
- A sputum test. This test is nobler than a blood test in the sense that it can pinpoint what is causing the infection.
- Pulse oximetry. Your lungs are responsible for making oxygen available in the blood. With pulse oximetry, this function can be assessed simply by placing an oxygen sensor on any of your fingers.
- A urine test. Streptococcus
pneumoniaeand Legionella pneumophilabacteria can be detected in your urine.
- A CT scan. It can only give a clear display of the state of your lungs.
- A fluid sample. A fluid sample can be collected from your chest cavity (pleural space) with the help of a special needle. With the fluid, the infection cause can be ascertained.
- A bronchoscopy. It’s a test for the viewing of your airways particularly the bronchioles when your symptoms are extremely bad. It can also be adopted when your body has failed to respond to antibiotics. To do this, a tube fixed to a camera will be pushed through your throat right into your lungs.
How is pneumonia treated?
Like every other disease, this disorder is treated based on your health state, the cause of it and how serious the symptoms are.
For the three types of germs that can cause this disorder, the drugs will be specific i.e. antibiotic, antiviral, or antifungal.
Oral antibiotics can be used to treat most bacterial pneumonia at home. In three days if your body responds well to the antibiotics, you should be perfectly well.
Some over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen, aspirin, and ibuprofen can be very beneficial in managing symptoms like fever and pain.
Cough medications will also be prescribed to you for cough reliefs. But you should also note that coughing can be beneficial in helping you get rid of the mucus in your lungs. So, you might want to consider that and limit your use of cough medications.
Doing these simple things can prevent a recurrence of your condition:
- following the prescribed drugs
- getting enough rest
- drinking a large amount of fluids
- resuming school or work once you feel better
When your symptoms are out of hand, you have to get a bed in the hospital. In the hospital, your breathing rate, heart rate, and temperature can be tracked. Treatments will also be more intensive. These treatments might include:
- Intravenous antibiotics – The antibiotics are administered into your body through your vein.
- Respiratory therapy. Different techniques can be used to achieve this therapy. One of such is the delivery of specific medications into your lungs. Teachings on how to perform simple breathing exercise in order to get the most of oxygen into your body will be part of this therapy.
- Oxygen therapy. With this therapy, the amount of oxygen that is available in your blood will be maintained. This treatment helps maintain the oxygen level in your bloodstream. To do this, an oxygen mask will be worn over your face. A ventilator will be required in very extreme cases.
What’s the outlook for pneumonia?
For the mild forms, recovery will be fast when promptly attended to.
Very severe forms that have caused other complications might be very difficult to manage. But it can be managed anyways.
Like your treatment, your recovery time will depend on the type of disorder you have, how severe it is, and your general health. For example, a younger person who has the same mildness of pneumonia can recover in a matter of weeks whereas an older person might take longer than that time. Generally, severe forms of pneumonia will take a longer time to heal than the mild forms.
Worsened chronic conditions
Emphysema and congestive heart failure are two conditions that can worsen pneumonia. Some persons might also be more susceptible to having a heart attack.
Complications can arise from very severe pneumonia particularly in diabetic and AIDS patients. Complications can include:
- Bacteremia. This is a state where your blood is saturated with bacteria. This can lead to serious conditions like organ failure, low blood pressure, and septic shock.
- Lung abscesses. When you have abscesses in your lungs, you have fluid-filled cavities.
- Impaired breathing – because of the state of your lungs, breathing can become really impossible and might require that you are placed on a ventilator (an oxygen machine).
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS is one respiratory disease that is very severe and that is described as a medical emergency.
- Pleural effusion. When pneumonia is left untreated or poorly treated, fluid can form in your pleura, a thin sheet lining both your lungs and rib cage. The fluid in the pleura can be contaminated and will need to be evacuated.
- Death –Not less than 2 – 3 million people suffer from severe attacks of pneumonia in the US every year. Out of this number, close to 60,000 die eventually.
Can pneumonia be prevented?
In many cases, this disease can be prevented.
Vaccination is usually pneumonia’s first line of defense. Two pneumonia vaccines are available in the US for the prevention of pneumonia.
Getting an annual flu shot can be combined with any pneumonia vaccine because the flu can often time be a pneumonia complication.
The National Institutes of Health once said that it is not possible for pneumonia vaccines to prevent the occurrence in most cases. The vaccine notwithstanding can lower your risk of developing it. Plus, if you end up having it, it will not be severe.
Prevnar 13: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended this vaccine that can take care of 13 different forms of pneumococcal bacteria for:
- Children who are 2 years old and below
- People who are 65 years old or more
- People who are between 2 and 65 years but who are battling with chronic conditions that can predispose to this disorder
Pneumovax 23: This is a vaccine suitable for 23 variants of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC has recommended it for:
- adults who are aged 65 more
- adult smokers that fall between 19 and 64 years old
- people aged between 2 and 65 years who have chronic conditions that can predispose to having this disorder
Other prevention tips
The following tips can be used to prevent this disorder from developing
- quit smoking
- practice the act of washing your hands with medicated soap after using the toilet
- when you have a cough or sneeze, learn to cover your mouth either with tissues or a handkerchief
- rest well, eat well, and exercise often
Tonika Bruce, MSN, RN, MBA. is an accomplished nurse leader, published author, and personal development expert passionate about advancing healthcare management and quality patient outcomes.
She taps into the years of experience in healthcare management to produce credible and easy-to-understand health and leadership content. Her exceptional work has been featured in reputable publications, including Forbes, Recruiter, Inc, and the Color of Wellness magazine.