Posted on November 12 2018
World Pneumonia Day is annually held on November 12 to raise awareness of pneumonia, promote prevention and treatment, and to generate action to fight the illness. News, messages, and events promoting World Pneumonia Day are publicized and made viral through social media networks, online, print and broadcast media, and through word of mouth. People are asked to help fight this disease by participating in education programs, voluntary work, or contributing via donations.
Pneumonia is a form of an acute respiratory infection that affects the lungs, making breathing painful and limiting oxygen intake. The lungs fill up with fluid or pus, which makes it difficult for one to breathe in enough oxygen to reach their bloodstream. Pneumonia can be mild, or so severe that it may send the patient to the hospital.
Anyone can get this disease, but infants younger than age 2 and people over age 65 have the highest odds. That is because their immune systems might not be strong enough to fight it.
Did you know? Pneumonia is the biggest killer of children under age 5 worldwide. Nearly 1 in 5 global child deaths result from pneumonia every year, but it doesn't have to be this way. Pneumonia is actually a preventable and treatable illness via vaccines, antibiotic treatment, and improved sanitation.
You can get pneumonia in one or both lungs. You can also have it, and not even know it! This is called "walking pneumonia." If your pneumonia is caused by a bacteria or virus, you can spread it to someone else.
Causes of Pneumonia
Bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause pneumonia, but the top causes include:
- Flu viruses
- Cold viruses
- RSV virus (the top cause of pneumonia in babies age 1 or younger)
- Bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae
Some people also get "ventilator associated pneumonia" if they develop the infection while on a ventilator - which is a machine at a hospital that helps one breathe. If you developed pneumonia while hospitalized and not on a ventilator, that is called "hospital acquired" pneumonia. However, most people develop pneumonia outside of a hospital, which is called "community acquired" pneumonia.
Symptoms of Pneumonia
The symptoms of this lung infection come on slower than the flu, but faster than a cold. It can get a little complicated because pneumonia can be a complication of colds and flu. This happens when the germs that cause colds and the flu get down into your lungs.
With pneumonia, you may have all the symptoms of the flu, but you may also have the following:
- High fever up to 105F
- Coughing out green, yellow, or bloody mucus
- Shortness of breath
- Extreme fatigue
- Low appetite
- Sharp or painful chest pain - especially when coughing or taking a deep breath
- Excessive sweating
- Fast breathing and heartbeat
- Blue lips and fingernails - which signals a lack of oxygen
- Confusion - which is more common in older people
When children have bacterial pneumonia, their symptoms may be more subtle. They may have:
- Labored and rapid breathing (more than 45 breaths a minute)
- Skin, lips, or fingertips that look blue (again, signaling a lack of oxygen)
Symptoms in babies might be more vague, like fussiness or difficulty feeding.
When to see a doctor: Call your doctor right away if symptoms of your cold or flu do not start to improve with rest and treatment, or if the symptoms begin to get worse. If you think you or your child have symptoms of pneumonia, do not wait for them to get worse. Call your doctor. Everyone who has pneumonia must see a doctor.
Types of Pneumonia
Learning the type of pneumonia you have helps your doctor suggest the proper treatment. Doctors describe the type based on where you came down with the infection. The following are different types of pneumonia:
Hospital-acquired pneumonia: You catch this type during a stay in the hospital. It can be serious because the bacteria causing the pneumonia can be resistant to antibiotics. You're more likely to develop this type if you're on a breathing machine, you can't cough strongly enough to clear your lungs, you have a tracheostomy tube to help you breathe, or your immune system is weak from a disease or treatment.
Community-acquired pneumonia: Can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Vaccines can help protect against the flu virus and certain bacteria that can also cause pneumonia. Community acquired pneumonia also includes aspiration pneumonia, which develops if you breathe food, fluid, or vomit into your lungs. It's more likely to happen if you have problems swallowing or coughing. If you can't cough up the material took in, bacteria can multiply in your lungs.
Bacterial Pneumonia: Bacteria cause majority of the cases of community acquired pneumonia in adults. You can catch pneumonia when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. Bacteria filled droplets get into the air, where you can breathe them in through your nose or mouth. If you have a weakened immune system, your chances of pneumonia are greater. You're also more likely to develop it if you have a condition such as, asthma, emphysema, or heart disease.
Symptoms of Bacterial Pneumonia include:
- A cough that brings up mucus
- Fever over 100.4F
- Fast breathing
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain
Antibiotics treat bacterial pneumonia. Your doctor might do tests to find the type of bacteria that's causing your infection, so you can receive the right antibiotic. This would most likely happen with hospital acquired pneumonia.
If you have community acquired pneumonia, oral antibiotics are usually enough to treat the infection. If your symptoms are severe, you may need to go to the hospital and get treated with antibiotic and fluids that your doctor administers intravenously, oxygen, and/or breathing treatments.
Walking Pneumonia: is a less severe form of bacterial pneumonia. Sometimes it is called "atypical" pneumonia. Symptoms can be so mild that you don't know you have it. You may feel well enough to continue your regular activities, which is where the "walking" name comes from.
Walking pneumonia can feel like a severe cold, with symptoms such as: fever, cough, headache, and chills. Antibiotics treat this infection as well, and will likely make you feel better in 3 to 5 days. However, the cough can last for a few weeks.
Viral Pneumonia: Viruses are the 2nd most common cause of pneumonia. Many different ones cause the disease, including some of the same viruses that bring on colds and flu. The symptoms of viral pneumonia are similar to the flu and can be mild or severe:
- Muscle pain
- Dry cough, which may get worse and make mucus
- Stuffy nose
Antibiotics won't treat viral pneumonia because they only work on bacteria. Treatment usually depends on the kind of symptoms you have. For example, if you have asthma or emphysema, you may need treatment to help with breathing. Drink extra fluids to help loosen mucus in your chest. To ease pain and to bring down a fever, your doctor may suggest acetaminophen or an NSAID, such as ibuprofen to take. They may also recommend an antiviral drug or medication to help you breathe easier.
Fungal Pneumonia: Fungi are a less common cause of pneumonia. You're not likely to develop fungal pneumonia if you're healthy, but you have a higher chance of catching it if your immune system is weakened from an organ transplant, chemotherapy, medicines to treat an autoimmune disease, or HIV.
You can also get fungal pneumonia by breathing in tiny particles called fungal spores. People in certain jobs are more likely to come into contact with them, such as: farmers who work around bird, bat, or rodent droppings, landscapers and gardeners who work with the soil, members of the military or construction workers who are around a lot of dust.
Symptoms of fungal pneumonia are similar to other types, including fever and cough.
When you visit your doctor to see if you have pneumonia, they will ask about your symptoms. Then, he or she may run a number of tests to get an idea of what is going on. Some of the testing the doctor will do includes listening to your lungs with a stethoscope, for a crackling or bubbling sound; having a chest x-ray; testing your white blood cell count; using a microscope to look at the mucus you cough up, and a pulse oximetry test, which measures the oxygen in your blood.
If an x-ray shows there's fluid around your lungs, your doctor may do a pleural fluid culture. In this test, they stick a needle into your chest wall and takes a sample of the fluid. It's then sent to a lab and checked for signs of infection.
In severe cases, your doctor might also do a bronchoscopy. They'll use an instrument called a bronchoscope to look at your lung's airways.
What are the treatments for pneumonia?
How your pneumonia is treated depends on what caused it and how bad your symptoms are. If you have bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will give you antibiotics to treat it. He'll also take steps to prevent complications.
If your pneumonia was caused by a virus, time and rest are key to your recovery. Viral pneumonia usually gets better on its own in 1 to 3 weeks, but your doctor still may recommend treatment that includes: drinking plenty of fluids to loosen the material in your lungs, plenty of rest, and medicines to control your fever.
If the pneumonia becomes severe, you may have to stay in the hospital for treatment. While there, your doctor will probably give you fluids or antibiotics through an IV tube. Depending on the severity, you may need oxygen therapy or breathing treatments.
Complications from Pneumonia
Pneumonia, no matter what the cause, can lead to other medical troubles, such as:
Bacteremia & Septic Shock: If bacteria caused your pneumonia, they could get into your blood. Bacteremia can lead to septic shock, which is a serious reaction to the infection in your blood, and can cause your blood pressure to drop to a dangerous level. When your blood pressure is too low, your heart may not be able to pump enough blood to your organs, and they can stop working. Get medical help immediately if you notice the following symptoms:
- Fast heart rate
- Fast breathing
- Chills that make you shake and shiver
- Low blood pressure
- Stomach upset - nausea, pain, vomiting, or diarrhea
- Mental confusion
Your doctor will test your blood for bacteria and treat you with antibiotics if you have bacteremia. You may get treated in the hospital for both bacteremia or septic shock.
Lung Abscesses: Sometimes pneumonia can cause pockets of pus to build up in your lungs. It's more likely to happen if you have had gum disease in the past, have bacteremia, have a weakened immune system, or misuse alcohol. Men and older people are more likely to develop lung abscesses. Tell your doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms:
- Fever of 101F or higher
- Coughing up pus
- Night sweats
- No appetite
- Weight loss without trying
Your doctor can test your mucus or the pus in your lungs to look for infection. They may also take an x-ray or CT scan of your lungs. Likely treatment would include antibiotics, or a procedure that uses a needle to remove the pus.
Pleural Effusions, Empyema, & Pleurisy
There are 2 layers of tissue near your lungs called the pleura. One wraps around the outside of your lungs, and the other lines the part of your chest where your lungs sit. They help your lungs move smoothly when your breathe. If your pneumonia isn't treated, the pleura can get swollen, creating a sharp pain when you breathe in. If you don't treat the swelling, the area between the pleura may fill with fluid, which is called a pleural effusion.
If the fluid gets infected, it leads to a problem called empyema. Tell your doctor immediately if you experience any of these symptoms:
- Chest pain that gets worse when you breathe, cough, or sneeze
- Pain that travels to your back or shoulder
- Difficulty breathing
- Inability to take deep breaths due to pain
Your doctor may look for swelling or fluid with an x-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan. They may also give you an EKG to rule out any heart problems. If you do have pleurisy, you may need medications that can stop the swelling. For pleural effusions and empyema, your doctor may suggest a procedure that removes fluid from your body with a needle. Antibiotics are also an option to treat empyema.
When you have pneumonia, it's possible for your lungs to fill with fluid. If that happens, they won't be able to transfer enough oxygen to your blood or get rid of the carbon dioxide in your blood. It's a serious condition, as your organs need oxygen to work. If your pneumonia is severe or you're in the hospital to treat it, your care team will monitor you for signs of this rare, but life-threatening complication.
You're more likely to get respiratory failure if you're being treated in the hospital, have a weak immune system, have a history of alcoholism, or if you're elderly. Get medical help immediately if you have any of these symptoms below:
- Fast breathing or not being able to fully breathe
- Feeling like you cannot get enough air
- Racing or irregular heart rate
- A bluish tint to your skin, fingertips or lips
- Extreme restlessness
- Losing consciousness
Your doctor will use x-rays, CT scans, blood tests, and pulse oximeters to determine if you're in respiratory failure. The best way to treat it is to get more oxygen, either through a tube in your nose, or an oxygen mask. You may also receive medications to treat any infection that is causing the problem.
Though not a common complication of pneumonia, it is serious because your kidneys will stop working if they are not getting enough blood. Your chances of getting kidney failure are higher if you're in the hospital, or have other medical conditions on top of your pneumonia. Seek medical attention right away if you have these symptoms:
- Urinating less than normal
- Swelling in your ankles, legs, or feet
- Difficulty breathing
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Chest pain or pressure
Your doctor can see if your kidneys are functioning properly by looking at how much you are urinating, and by testing the urine or your blood. Your doctor will treat the cause of your kidney failure, and you may need to have your blood cleaned through a dialysis machine until your kidneys are working again.
Research shows that 20% of people who are in the hospital for pneumonia also have heart problems, and scientists are looking into why that is. Some possible reasons include: bacteria that enters the heart, the stress of the illness increasing the chance of having a heart problem, or that your body is not sending enough oxygen to your organs. The chances of having a heart problem related to your pneumonia are higher if you are elderly, are in the hospital, or already have a heart condition.
Seek medical attention immediately if you have the following:
- Trouble breathing
- Racing or abnormal heart rate
- Continuous coughing or wheezing
- Coughing up mucus that is pink from blood
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, or stomach
- Loss of appetite, nausea, or weight loss
- Sudden weight gain
Your doctor can look for heart failure by listening to your heart, testing your blood, or performing an x-ray, EKG, echocardiogram, CT scan, or MRI. Many medications and procedures can help you manage heart failure.
Reducing Your Risk
Getting pneumonia after surgery can be quite serious. According to the CDC, studies have suggested that pneumonia acquired in the hospital can be fatal as often as 33% of the time. Your doctor should help advise on ways to protect yourself, such as:
Follow your doctor's instructions about not eating or drinking before surgery. Usually, your doctor will tell you not to eat or drink after midnight the night before surgery. You must follow that advice. If you're undergoing anesthesia and still have food in your stomach, fluid or vomit may back up and get into your lungs. This can lead to aspiration pneumonia. Simply following these orders reduces the risk.
Ask everyone to wash their hands. Family, friends, doctors, and nurses included. Since pneumonia can be caused by bacteria and some viruses, you need to make sure that people who touch you aren't transmitting any nasty germs.
Ask when you can begin to move around. Lying flat on your back for a long time can increase the risk of developing pneumonia. Be sure to find out when it's safe to start sitting up and walking around.
Do breathing exercises. Try taking 10-15 big, deep breaths each hour. You may also use an incentive spirometer to check your lung function.
Stop smoking. Quitting smoking has numerous health benefits. Giving your lungs a break will make them stronger and lower your risk of pneumonia.
Conclusion: How to Feel Better
After you've gone to the doctors, gotten the diagnosis, and picked up your medications, you may wonder what else you can do to help yourself feel better. Here's some simple and effective tips:
Stay Home: though it may be tempting to go back to work or school, home is where healing happens. Stay home until your fever breaks and your cough goes away. This protects your body and lowers your risk of infecting others.
Rest: resting is key and goes hand in hand with staying home. Be still and let your body rest. This helps it fully focus on fighting the infection.
Liquids: drink plenty of fluids, as fluids hydrate the body, loosen mucus in the lungs, and help bring up phlegm. Take in plenty of water and drink some warm tea, or sip clear soups.
Cough: Coughing can actually be a good thing. It helps your body get rid of the infection. Don't suppress it with cough medicine, instead ask your doctor what you can do if coughing is keeping you from resting.
Stay Away From Smoke: and let your lungs heal. This includes smoking, secondhand smoke, lit fireplaces, and polluted air. Exposure to smoke may increase risk for future lung problems, including another round of pneumonia.
Follow Doctor's Orders: Whether your doctor recommends prescription or over the counter medication, follow all directions carefully. If you're taking antibiotics, don't skip a dose or stop taking them when you feel better. This can cause bacteria to stick around and multiply, making your recovery time longer. It can also increase your resistance to antibiotics in the future.
Breathe Easy: Clear your lungs with a cool-mist humidifier or a warm bath.
Take it Slow: Pneumonia can come back, so take it slow when you start to feel better to ensure a full recovery. Taking on too much, too soon can send you back to bed.