CareNow® - March 25, 2020

Caused by a bacteria, virus, fungi or chemical, pneumonia can affect one or both of the lungs.

If you have pneumonia, the air sacs in your lungs will become inflamed as a result of the infection. These air sacs, called alveoli, fill with fluid or pus, which can make it hard to breathe.

Here we’re sharing everything you need to know about pneumonia, including how to treat the infection.

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If you have questions about how pneumonia relates to COVID-19 (Coronavirus) please see this article from the CDC.

Are There Different Types of Pneumonia?

There are four types of pneumonia—and the type of pneumonia you have depends on where and how you caught it.

  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia, or HAP, is the most serious form of the disease and, as its name implies, is acquired while staying in a hospital. The bacteria that causes HAP is usually more resistant to antibiotics than other forms of the illness.
  • Ventilator-associated pneumonia, VAP, can occur when people are on a ventilator.
  • Community-acquired pneumonia, or CAP, is acquired outside a medical or institutional setting.
  • Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you inhale food, drink or saliva. Those who have difficulty swallowing or have been sedated as a result of medication, alcohol or drug use, are at a higher risk for aspiration pneumonia.

What Causes Pneumonia?

There are four causes of pneumonia:

  • Bacteria is the most common cause of pneumonia, specifically Streptococcus pneumoniae.
  • Respiratory viruses, such as flu, respiratory syncytial viris and the common cold, can cause a type of pneumonia that is usually milder than bacterial pneumonia and can improve in one to three weeks without treatment.
  • Fungi from soil or bird droppings cause pneumonia that people with weakened immune systems can be vulnerable to contracting.
  • Chemical irritants, such as inhalation of chemicals, gasses, liquids, dust and food, cause inflammation of the lung tissue. A small percentage of pneumonias are caused by chemicals.

How Do You Know If You Have Pneumonia?

Depending on your overall state of health—as well as the cause of your pneumonia—your signs and symptoms may be mild to severe.

Typically, someone with pneumonia will experience these symptoms:

  • Cough that produces mucus
  • Chest pain that worsens when breathing or coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Infants and children can suffer from pneumonia, and it can be difficult to identify the infection without the help of a doctor. In addition to the symptoms above, look for these in little ones:

  • Labored breathing
  • Flaring of the nostrils
  • Wheezing
  • Pain in the chest
  • Bluish tint to the lips or nails

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Yes, the germs that cause bacterial and viral pneumonia are contagious; fungal and chemical pneumonia are not. Pneumonia is spread by:

  • Inhaling airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough
  • Touching a surface or object that’s been contaminated with the bacteria or virus
  • Sharing glasses, straws or eating utensils
  • Not washing hands regularly, especially after sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose

Pneumonia is contagious for anywhere from one day to several weeks, depending on the type.

How Do You Test for Pneumonia?

If you go to a doctor with symptoms of pneumonia, he or she will perform a physical exam, which will include using a stethoscope to listen to your lungs for abnormal sounds, like crackling.

If symptoms are more severe, the doctor may call for any of the following tests:

  • A chest X-ray to identify signs of inflammation in the lungs.
  • Bloodwork to confirm that an infection is present and a culture to determine the cause of the pneumonia.
  • A sputum culture to identify the cause of the infection. To collect the sample, you’ll be asked to cough deeply to produce mucus.
  • Pulse oximetry to measure how much oxygen is in the blood. During this test, a sensor is placed on one of your fingers to reveal if the lungs are moving enough oxygen through the bloodstream.
  • A CT scan for a more detailed image of the lungs.
  • A fluid sample to determine if there is fluid in the pleural space of the chest. This space is between the lungs and underneath the chest wall. It is normally empty, with the lung immediately against the inside of the chest wall. With pneumonia, fluid can build up in this space, and this fluid can determine the cause of the infection. To collect a sample, the doctor inserts a needle between the ribs and extracts any fluid from the space.
  • A bronchoscopy to reveal what’s happening in the airways in the lungs. It is performed by easing a flexible tube with a camera down the throat and into the lungs. This test is performed if you have severe symptoms or have been hospitalized and are not responding well to antibiotics.

What is Walking Pneumonia?

A milder case of pneumonia, walking pneumonia can be difficult to identify as symptoms are similar to a mild respiratory infection.

If you have walking pneumonia, you may experience a mild fever, chills, shortness of breath, a dry cough that lasts longer than a week, chest pain and reduced appetite.

Even though walking pneumonia is much milder than pneumonia, it may actually have a longer recovery period.

How is Pneumonia Treated?

The treatment for pneumonia depends on several factors. The cause of the infection, the likelihood that the organism is resistant to medication and the existing health of the patient can all determine the course of treatment.

Bacterial pneumonia is treated with oral antibiotics. If these don’t work, there are numerous other treatment options available.

Since viral pneumonia usually goes away on its own, medications are used to ease symptoms. Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter medications for pain relief, to reduce a fever and to ease coughing.

In some cases, the doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication or hospitalize patients who are over age 65 or with chronic health conditions.

If you’re suffering from pneumonia-like symptoms, it is important that you seek medical attention before your symptoms worsen.

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Disclaimer: Patients’ health can vary. Always consult with a medical professional before taking medication, making health-related decisions or deciding if medical advice is right for you.