Pneumonia is a bacterial or viral infection that develops in air sacs of the lungs. It is caused by viruses,bacteria or rarely, fungi. Most cases of pneumonia are caused by bacteria and are known as Streptococcus pneumonia (pneumococcal disease). However, viral pneumonia is more common in children. It can either affect only one lobe, or may be widespread in the lungs.
Bacterial pneumonia usually develops quickly, often over a day. Whereas, viral pneumonia tends to develop slowly over a number of days.
People who develop pneumonia initially have a viral infection such as a cold or flu. The symptoms in this case are headache, muscle aches and fever. In cases where pneumonia develops, symptoms commonly include:
- High fever
- Shortness of breath
- Increased breathing rate
- Bad cough that may produce discolored or bloody sputum (phlegm)
- Severe chest pains – caused by inflammation of the membrane that lines the lungs
Babies and children may not show clear signs of a chest infection and symptoms might be less specific. They commonly will have a high fever, appear very unwell, and become lethargic. In some cases, theymight also have noisy breathing.
In some cases skin, lips and nail beds may become dusky or bluish. This shows that the lungs are incapableof delivering enough oxygen to the body. Doctors suggest that in such cases, it is vital to seek medical assistance straight away.
Treatment of most cases of pneumonia can be done at home. However people with severe pneumonia, babies as well as children may need to be admitted to hospital for treatment.
Usually, pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. This is because even viral pneumonia may have a degree of bacterial infection as well. The type of antibiotics is determinedby the severity and cause of the pneumonia.
Pneumonia treated at home includes:
- Antibiotics - tablets or liquid
- Pain relieving medications
- Paracetamol to reduce fever
Pneumonia treatments in hospital includes:
- Antibiotics given via a drip into a vein (intravenously)
- Oxygen therapy - to ensure the body gets sufficient oxygen
- Intravenous fluids - to correct dehydration or fulfill the energy requirement of the body
- Physiotherapy - to clear the sputum from the lungs
Pneumonia patients may take several weeks to fully recover. The cough may continue for a period until the sputum is cleared from the lungs. Some might also experience fatigue.