Inhalation of the infected air can cause inflammation of one or both lungs, leading to pneumonia. The tiny alveolar sacs of the lung get inflamed and filled with pus or fluid, making breathing strenuous with severe chest pain. Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in children younger than five years.
Pneumonia can affect anyone, but younger children, older adults, hospitalized patients, and the person with weakened immunity are more susceptible. The most common causes of pneumonia are chemical irritants and bacterial, viral, or fungal infections. You will experience varying degrees of severity depending on the type of infection-causing pathogen, age, and overall health. Poor lifestyle habits, such as smoking, junk food, illicit drugs, and excessive alcohol consumption, can increase the risk of getting pneumonia at any age.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
The symptoms of this lung disease vary from person to person and may show mild (cold-like) to life-threatening manifestations. But the following are some symptoms of pneumonia:
- Chills with sweating
- Cough with phlegm
- Chest pain while coughing or breathing
- Difficulty in breathing and breathlessness
- Decrease in appetite
- Bowel irregularities, especially diarrhea
- Children cry often
- Sometimes, decrease in mental awareness, especially in older people
What are the types of pneumonia?
More than 30 different types of pneumonia exist and identifying the right one can be challenging. Pneumonia can be hospital-acquired or community-derived. The following are the most common types of pneumonia:
- Bacterial pneumonia
When an infected person coughs or sneezes, bacteria-filled droplets release into the air. When you breathe in these droplets, you also catch pneumonia. The most common bacteria that causes pneumonia is streptococcus pneumonia.
Bacterial pneumonia is the most common community-acquired pneumonia in adults. People with a weakened immune system or chronic lung conditions are more prone to bacterial pneumonia just coming in close contact with an infected person.
Legionnaires’ disease is a type of bacterial pneumonia caused by Legionella pneumophila. It usually spreads through inhaling mist from water containing bacteria, not from person to person. The mist-containing bacteria may come from central air-conditioners, showers, or hot tubs.
Your healthcare provider might order a few diagnostic tests to find pathogenic bacteria to determine the appropriate antibiotics. In mild cases, oral antibiotics are sufficient to recover. While in severe cases, your healthcare provider may administer IV antibiotics, fluids, oxygen, and treatment to ease breathing ailments.
- Walking pneumonia
Walking pneumonia is a less severe type of pneumonia. Its symptoms are similar to cold or flu-like, which gives it the popular name Atypical pneumonia. A person with this infection can be functional, but they can still spread pneumonia infection to other people. Bacteria, viruses, fungi, and chemical irritants can cause it, but it is usually due to Mycoplasma pneumoniae bacteria. It is more prevalent in crowded places, such as schools, dormitories, nursing homes, and military barracks.
Viral pneumonia accounts for approximately one-third of all pneumonia cases. The symptoms are generally mild, but sometimes, it becomes severe enough that you need hospital administration. Numerous viruses can cause viral pneumonia, including influenza virus, SARS-CoV-2 or COVID-19 virus, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). The treatment depends on the displayed symptoms.
- Fungal pneumonia
People with chronic diseases and weakened immunity are more likely to develop fungal pneumonia. The most common type of fungal pneumonia is pneumocystis pneumonia (PCP), and the culprit pathogen is Pneumocystis jirovecii. Other fungi that can cause pneumonia are Histoplasmosis, Cryptococcus, and coccidioidomycosis. You can get an infection by inhaling fungal spores from the feces of birds, bats, or rodent droppings and have a lot of dust exposure.
- Hospital-acquired pneumonia
A person who administers in a hospital, on a breathing machine, or has a tracheostomy can catch pneumonia. Bacteria causing hospital-acquired pneumonia can be resilient to antibiotics, making it a potentially severe disease.
How can we prevent getting pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be a life-threatening condition if not treated on time. Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia development of bacterial and viral origin. Although vaccinated people can still get pneumonia, they encounter fewer complications and milder infections. The following are crucial vaccination to prevent pneumonia:
- Pneumococcus vaccine: It gives protection from pneumonia of pneumococcal bacteria origin. The pneumococcus vaccine is necessary for people who are at high risk of pneumonia, such as those:
- Children aged two or younger
- Adults over age 65
- Chronic smokers
- People with a weakened immune system or severe chronic diseases, such as HIV, asthma, sickle cell disease, or cancer.
- Influenza vaccine: Flu shots can help prevent pneumonia occurred by influenza infection.
- Hib vaccine: It can help fight Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib) bacteria, which can cause pneumonia.
In addition to vaccination, other preventive measures are:
- Maintain hygiene. Wash your hands every time coming from outside, after using the restroom, before eating, and before cooking with soap and water or with an alcohol-based sanitizer.
- Quit smoking.
- Eat a healthy balanced diet with plenty of organic fruits and vegetables to keep immunity strong.
- Stay away from the person who has the infection.
- Cover your mouth and nose while coughing and sneezing.
Pneumonia is an acute lung infection that causes various respiratory symptoms. With proper rest and treatment, you will recover in a few days. Immediately contact your doctor if you are experiencing worsening symptoms.
Dr. Nitin Rathi | Senior Consultant – Pulmonology | Dharamshila Narayana Superspeciality Hospital, Delhi