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COVID-19 Pneumonia Vs Pneumonia: Understanding the difference

COVID-19 Pneumonia Vs Pneumonia: Understanding the difference
Here's how COVID-19 pneumonia is different from regular pneumonia

In this article, we'll take a closer look at COVID-19 pneumonia, what makes it different, symptoms to watch out for, and how it's treated.

Written by Satata Karmakar |Updated : January 6, 2021 11:45 AM IST

The infection of the lungs caused by viruses, bacteria, or fungi is termed pneumonia. The lungs are filled with air sacs which are known as alveoli and as a result of the infection, these alveoli or air sacs get inflamed. This further leads to the filling of fluid or pus in the lungs which causes breathing problems. Pneumonia can be a complication of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus known as SARS-CoV-2. In this article, we'll take a closer look at COVID-19 pneumonia, what makes it different, symptoms to watch out for, and how it's treated.

How can one recognise pneumonia? What are the classic symptoms?

Commonly patients suffering from pneumonia would complain of cough with green or yellow sputum; occasionally the sputum is rust-colored or with frank blood. Here are some of the early signs and symptoms of this illness


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A cough in elders that does not clear up can be a major symptom of pneumonia. There are also some types of pneumonia that leads to the accumulation of mucus in the lungs.


Most people with this condition suffer from sudden fever. However, this fever is not very uncommon among seniors, but getting the feverish feeling every now and then can be a sign that you are suffering from a serious health issue.

#Shortness Of Breath

The air sacs in the lungs can fill with fluid or pus if you have this condition. This causes a cough but also difficulty in breathing. You will especially notice this when your loved one needs to move quickly. For example, trying to rush to answer the phone or climbing stairs.

#Chest Pain

The infection in the lungs can cause chest pain in elders while coughing and breathing. The pain is chronic and can be extremely painful. When you experience chest pain while coughing and breathing, you must consult a doctor and get yourself checked.

Why Is Pneumonia Dangerous? What Are The Possible Complications Of Leaving This Condition Untreated?

Pneumonia can usually be treated successfully without leading to complications. However, complications like the ones listed below can develop in some patients, especially those in high-risk groups.

Fluid or pus could get accumulated (also called an effusion) between the covering of the lungs (pleura) and the inner lining of the chest wall; this is called a pleural effusion (or empyema in case of pus). A chest tube (or less commonly, surgery) may be needed to drain the fluid/pus.

Pus might collect in the lung area infected with pneumonia (also known as an abscess). Rarely this may require surgery.

Bacteria can spread to the bloodstream and other organs. This is a serious complication since the infection can cause the blood pressure to be dangerously low.

Although most people recover from pneumonia, it can be fatal in some cases. Approximately 5 to 10 percent of patients admitted to a general medical ward, and almost 30 percent of patients with severe infection admitted to an intensive care unit can die.

What's the connection between coronavirus and pneumonia?

Infection with SARS-CoV-2 begins when respiratory droplets containing the virus enter your body through your upper respiratory tract. As the virus multiplies, the infection can progress to your lungs and can further spread the infection. During this time, the chances of developing pneumonia become high and thus can lead to COVID-19 pneumonia.

Now, the question comes - how does this actually happen? Well, the oxygen you breathe into your lungs crosses into your bloodstream inside the alveoli, the small air sacs which are present in your lungs. However, infection with SARS-CoV-2 can damage the alveoli and surrounding tissues.

Further, as your immune system fights the virus, inflammation can cause fluid and dead cells to build up in your lungs. These factors interfere with the transfer of oxygen, leading to symptoms like severe coughing and extreme shortness of breath.

According to the studies, people infected with COVID-19 pneumonia can also go on to develop other illnesses such as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Acute respiratory distress syndrome is a progressive type of respiratory failure that occurs when the air sacs in the lungs fill up with fluid. This can make it the person hard to breathe and thus leads to breathlessness.

At times, such patients are also put under ventilation for life support.

How is COVID-19 pneumonia different from regular pneumonia?

The symptoms of COVID-19 pneumonia may be similar to other types of viral pneumonia. However, most people who get COVID-19 have mild or moderate symptoms like coughing, a fever, and shortness of breath. But some who catch the new coronavirus get severe pneumonia in both lungs. COVID-19 pneumonia is a serious illness that can be deadly.

Researchers found that people with COVID-19 pneumonia were more likely to have:

1. Pneumonia that affects both lungs as opposed to just one

2. Lungs that had a characteristic "ground-glass" appearance via CT scan

3. Abnormalities in some laboratory tests, particularly those assessing liver function

Who Are At Risk Of Developing COVID-19 Pneumonia?

Some people are at a higher risk for developing COVID-19 pneumonia. It totally depends on the individual's health conditions. Some of the other risk factors include:


Older adults or adults who are 65 years up are at an increased risk for serious illness due to COVID-19.

#Underlying Health Complications

An individual who is suffering from other health complications such as - asthma, diabetes, liver diseases, obesity, and kidney illnesses is at higher risk of catching COVID-19 pneumonia.

#Weak Immunity System

Another most important risk factor is a weakened immune system. Being immunocompromised can raise the risk of serious COVID-19 pneumonia disease.

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