Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
The germs that cause pneumonia are contagious. This means they can spread from person to person.
Both viral and bacterial pneumonia can spread to others through inhalation of airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough. It can also be contracted by coming into contact with infected objects or surfaces.
Types Of Pneumonia
Hospital-acquired Pneumonia: Some people catch pneumonia during a hospital stay for another illness. Hospital-acquired pneumonia can be serious because the bacteria causing it may be more resistant to antibiotics and because the people who get it are already sick. People who are on breathing machines (ventilators), often used in intensive care units, are at higher risk of this type of pneumonia.
Health Care-acquired Pneumonia: Health care-acquired pneumonia is a bacterial infection that occurs in people who live in long-term care facilities or who receive care in outpatient clinics, including kidney dialysis centers. Like hospital-acquired pneumonia, health care-acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria that are more resistant to antibiotics.
Aspiration Pneumonia: Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you inhale food, drink, vomit or saliva into your lungs. Aspiration is more likely if something disturbs your normal gag reflex, such as a brain injury or swallowing problem, or excessive use of alcohol or drugs.
Risk Factors Of Pneumonia
Pneumonia can affect anyone. But the two age groups at highest risk are:
- Children who are 2 years old or younger
- People who are age 65 or older
Other risk factors include:
Being Hospitalized. You’re at greater risk of pneumonia if you’re in a hospital intensive care unit, especially if you’re on a machine that helps you breathe (a ventilator).
Chronic Disease. You’re more likely to get pneumonia if you have asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or heart disease.
Smoking. Smoking damages your body’s natural defenses against the bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia.
Weakened Or Suppressed Immune System. People who have HIV/AIDS, who’ve had an organ transplant, or who receive chemotherapy or long-term steroids are at risk.
Signs And Symptoms Of Pneumonia
Pneumonia symptoms can be mild to life-threatening. They can include:
- coughing that may produce phlegm (mucus)
- sweating or chills
- shortness of breath that happens while doing normal activities or even while resting
- chest pain that’s worse when you breathe or cough
- feelings of tiredness or fatigue
- loss of appetite
- nausea or vomiting
Other symptoms can vary according to your age and general health:
Children under 5 years old may have fast breathing or wheezing.
Infants may appear to have no symptoms, but sometimes they may vomit, lack energy, or have trouble drinking or eating.
Older people may have milder symptoms. They can also exhibit confusion or a lower than normal body temperature
Prevention Of Pneumonia
To help prevent pneumonia:
Get Vaccinated. Vaccines are available to prevent some types of pneumonia and the flu. Talk with your doctor about getting these shots. The vaccination guidelines have changed over time so make sure to review your vaccination status with your doctor even if you recall previously receiving a pneumonia vaccine.
Make Sure Children Get Vaccinated. Doctors recommend a different pneumonia vaccine for children younger than age 2 and for children ages 2 to 5 years who are at particular risk of pneumococcal disease. Children who attend a group child care center should also get the vaccine. Doctors also recommend flu shots for children older than 6 months.
Practice Good Hygiene. To protect yourself against respiratory infections that sometimes lead to pneumonia, wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Don’t Smoke. Smoking damages your lungs’ natural defenses against respiratory infections.
Keep Your Immune System Strong. Get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
Complications Of Pneumonia
Even with treatment, some people with pneumonia, especially those in high-risk groups, may experience complications, including:
- Bacteria in the bloodstream (bacteremia). Bacteria that enter the bloodstream from your lungs can spread the infection to other organs, potentially causing organ failure.
- Difficulty breathing. If your pneumonia is severe or you have chronic underlying lung diseases, you may have trouble breathing in enough oxygen. You may need to be hospitalized and use a breathing machine (ventilator) while your lung heals.
- Fluid accumulation around the lungs (pleural effusion). Pneumonia may cause fluid to build up in the thin space between layers of tissue that line the lungs and chest cavity (pleura). If the fluid becomes infected, you may need to have it drained through a chest tube or removed with surgery.
- Lung abscess. An abscess occurs if pus forms in a cavity in the lung. An abscess is usually treated with antibiotics. Sometimes, surgery or drainage with a long needle or tube placed into the abscess is needed to remove the pus.
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs which gets the air sacs inflamed. It can be caused by several factors and organisms. It could be mild or life threatening. Practice good hygiene and avoid crowded places to help you prevent it. You can also get vaccinated.
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