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Pneumonia: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention & Treatment

Pneumonia is a form of acute respiratory infection affecting 1 in 71 children annually.  According to UNICEF, pneumonia claims nearly 700,000 children under the age of 5 including 200,000 newborns globally. The report also suggests, most of these deaths are preventable.

> What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lung infection that affects the airway and the alveoli also known as air-sacs in your lungs. The infection causes inflammation of the airway and fluid or mucus formation in the alveoli making it hard to breathe.

Anyone can be affected by pneumonia, however, infants, young adults, and people over the age of 65 are more susceptible to lung infections. Excessive smoking and consumption of alcohol can also increase your chances of contracting pneumonia.

Pneumonia can range from mild to so severe, causing damage to one or both lungs.

Causes of pneumonia

> Causes
Many germs including the most common bacteria and viruses found in the air we breathe can cause pneumonia. Our body’s immune system is capable of defending against these common germs, however, sometimes they can overpower the immune system leading to lung infection.

Since the germs causing lung infections are in the air we breathe pneumonia is classified according to the types of germs.

  1. Bacteria 

Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae are the most common bacteria causing mild lung infections. Pneumonia due to these bacteria is informally known as ‘walking pneumonia’.

  1. Viruses 

Viruses that cause colds and the flu including COVID 19 can cause pneumonia. Children below the age of 5 are most commonly affected by viruses that cause pneumonia. The symptoms may seem mild in the beginning but can lead to serious damage to the lungs and be life-threatening.

Pneumonia caused by viruses or bacteria tends to be contagious. However, exposure to germs does not necessarily lead to the development of pneumonia.

  1. Fungi

Fungi found in soil, and bird droppings can also lead to pneumonia. Pneumonia caused by fungi is not contagious however when inhaled in large doses these fungi can rapidly weaken the immune system of people with chronic health problems. The type of fungi varies based on geographic location.

> Symptoms
Symptoms of pneumonia range from mild cold or flu to life-threatening conditions depending on the germ-causing pneumonia.

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include high fever (up to 105° F), fatigue, rapid breathing or shortness of breath, chills and cold sweats, cough with greenish mucus with chest pain during coughing, and loss of appetite.

Viral pneumonia symptoms gradually change starting with early symptoms of common flu such as fever, dry cough, and headaches eventually leading to higher fever, mucus formation, and shortness of breath.

Even though the symptoms of pneumonia are similar to the common cold they last much longer. If you do not observe any improvement in your symptoms and experience serious congestion or chest pain with high fever and coughing that produces pus or mucus, do not delay a visit to your doctor.

Ignoring signs of pneumonia can cause permanent lung damage. Seek immediate care if you have breathing difficulties and experience above mentioned symptoms.

> Prevention
There are two types of vaccines for pneumonia caused by pneumococcal bacteria. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is AKA Prevnar or PCV13 and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine, known as Pneumovax or PPSV23. These vaccines are similar to a flu shot, they may not completely protect from pneumonia, but they can significantly reduce the risk of contraction.

Preventive measures

Along with vaccinations, here are other recommended preventive measures.

  • Wash your hands regularly with soap.

  • Wear a mask or cover your mouth while coughing and sneezing.

  • Maintain your lung health, avoid smoking.

  • Maintain a healthy diet and exercise regularly to keep your immune system strong. 

> Treatment
Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. Post medication you may notice improvement within 12 to 36 hours. However, completing the course of antibiotics to avoid relapse of the infection is recommended. Viral pneumonia usually subsides on its own and cannot be treated with antibiotics. Staying hydrated and having proper rest are important during the treatment. Avoid self-medication with OTC medicine.

Treatment of pneumonia

Healthy individuals often recover quicker with proper care. However, if left untreated pneumonia is a serious condition and can be life-threatening.