According to a 2018 report released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an international health research centre at the University of Washington, pneumonia is the leading cause of death among kids under 5 years of age, globally. It also reveals that in 2017 alone, more than 80,000 children lost their lives to this lung condition. However, the highest pneumonia mortality rate was among people above 70 years of age in that year.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an inflammatory lung infection that primarily affects the alveoli (tiny air sacs in the lungs). The air sacs or alveoli may even get filled with fluid or pus and the symptoms range from mild to severe. This prominent symptoms include cough with phlegm or pus, high fever, chills and breathing difficulties. Pneumonia, which can affect one or both the lungs, can be caused by viral or bacterial infections. Senior citizens (above 65 years of age), infants below 2 years, people with chronic lung conditions and severe infections are more vulnerable to pneumonia. This is because their immune systems are compromised. Also, lifestyle habits like smoking and alcoholism escalate your risk of catching this lung infection.
Typically, pneumonia is characterised breathing issues, cough and high grade fever. However, the signs and symptoms may differ on the basis of age, and overall health condition. Here, we guide you through some common manifestations.
- Pain in the chest, especially when you breathe or cough
- Phlegm or mucus producing cough
- Extreme fatigue
- Loss of appetite
- Sweats and chills
- Nausea and vomiting
- Difficulty in breathing
Apart from these, kids and senior citizens may experience certain other symptoms of pneumonia. While children under 5 years of age may undergo manifestations like fast breathing or wheezing, infants may have no other symptoms else than vomiting, depleted energy levels, or difficulty in drinking or eating. Elderly people, on the other hand, may experience confusion, abnormally low body temperature, etc.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Viruses, bacteria and fungi are the main culprits behind pneumonia. You are likely catch this infection via droplets (loaded with these pathogens) which are emitted by an infected person as he coughs and sneezes. Contaminated fomites may also give you pneumonia. You can acquire this infection during a hospital stay, while undergoing procedures related to ventilators, or from the people around you. The bacteria that are commonly responsible for this ailment are commonly known as Streptococcus pneumoniae and Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Respiratory viruses that could also be the culprits for pneumonia include influenza (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and rhinoviruses (common cold). Additionally, fungi from the soil and bird droppings may also lead to pneumonia. Examples of these pathogens are Pneumocystis jirovecii, Cryptococcus species, Histoplasmosis species, etc.
Pneumonia Risk Factors
Though anyone can get pneumonia, some have a higher risk of catching this disease than others. Here are the high-risk groups:
- People above 65 years of age
- Malnourished patients
- People with existing lung problems like bronchiectasis, asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (emphysema)
- People with medical problems like diabetes, chronic kidney or heart disease
- People with a weak immune system due to HIV infection, organ transplant, chemotherapy, or long-term steroid use
- People who have had a recent upper respiratory tract viral infection including influenza
- Stroke survivors
- People who have problem in swallowing
- People with restricted mobility
This lung infection may come with a host of other health complications. Here is a low-down on them.
Septic shock and organ failure: This may occur if pneumonia causing bacteria enter your bloodstream.
Infection in fluid: In some cases of pneumonia, the fluid that builds up around the lungs and chest cavity may get infected.
Lung abscess: The pus that forms around your lungs can lead to abscess.
Diagnosis of Pneumonia
Review of medical history and physical examination are the first things that your doctor will do to detect pneumonia. If you have pneumonia, your lungs will make crackling, bubbling or rambling sounds. In case your physician suspects this condition, he may suggest the following tests:
Blood tests: These may be recommended to diagnose an infection and its cause.
Chest X-ray: It helps your physician detect the signs of inflammation in your lungs and figure out its exact location and extent.
Sputum culture: In this diagnostic test, a sample of your mucus is sent to the lab in order to find the cause of infection.
Pulse oximetry: This test tells your doctor about the efficiency of your lungs in moving oxygen through your bloodstream. A sensor placed on your fingers measures oxygen levels in your blood.
CT scan: It allows your doctor to view your lungs more clearly giving him a detailed picture.
Fluid sample: Your physician will suggest this test if you have fluid in the pleural pace of your chest. The aim is to figure out the cause of infection. The fluid sample will be collected with the help of a needle, placed between your ribs. your infection.
Bronchoscopy: This imaging test is recommended for people with severe symptoms of pneumonia, and those who fail to respond to medicines. It gives a clear picture of airways to your doctor.
Treatment for Pneumonia
The line of treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you are suffering from. For bacterial pneumonia, your doctor will prescribe antibiotics and for the viral form of this condition, he will suggest antiviral medications. Fungal pneumonia, on the other hand, requires antifungal medications. Your physician may also prescribe cough medications to help you eliminate it. The infection will take long to recover.
Alongside your medicines, you will need to rest a lot and keep yourself sufficiently hydrated. In case of severe pneumonia, hospitalisation may be required. Hospital treatment may include intravenous antibiotics, respiratory therapies that involve administering drugs and breathing exercises, etc. You may also need oxygen therapy to increase its levels in your bloodstream. This therapy is carried out through a nasal tube, face mask, or ventilator. The severity of your condition will determine the device to be used.
Prevention of Pneumonia
The best way to prevent pneumonia is through vaccination. Pneumococcal vaccine, PCV13 and Haemophilus Influenzae Type b (Hib) can protect you against bacterial pneumonia. The later also guards you against meningitis. The regular flu shot is recommended as well to safeguard you against pneumonia which often accompanies flu. Apart from vaccines, you can take other infection control measures to keep pneumonia at bay.
Frequent hand washing with soap and water or alcohol-based hand rubs can be effective. As pneumonia is spread by contact with infected respiratory secretions, people with pneumonia should limit face-to-face contact with uninfected family and friends. The mouth and nose should be covered while coughing or sneezing, and tissues should be disposed of immediately. Sneezing/coughing into the sleeve of one’s clothing (at the inner elbow) is another means of containing sprays of saliva and secretions and has the advantage of not contaminating the hands.