Pneumonia, which is an inflammation of the tissue in one or the lungs, is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. In such case, the clusters of tiny air sacs at the end of the breathing tubes become inflamed and swell up with fluid. This condition causes coughing with phlegm, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.
Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and people with underlying health problems or weakened immune systems. Antibiotics and antiviral medications can treat many common forms of pneumonia.
Depending on the factors that cause it, the age and the overall health of the patient, the symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe. The mild ones are similar to those of a cold or flu, but they last longer. In certain cases, newborns and infants might not show any sign of the infection. Or they may vomit, have a fever and cough, appear restless or tired and without energy. On the other hand, older people who have pneumonia sometimes have sudden changes in mental awareness. The most common symptoms are:
- A cough, which may produce thick phlegm
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills
- Difficult breathing
- Lower than normal body temperature
- Chest pain
- Fatigue and muscle aches
- Nausea, vomiting or diarrhea
Pneumonia can be caused by a variety of organisms, among which, bacteria, viruses and fungi. The most common cause of pneumonia is a pneumococcal infection, caused by the bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. The most common causes are the bacteria and viruses in the air we breathe. Our bodies usually prevent these germs from infecting the lungs. However, sometimes even if our health is generally good, the germs can overpower the immune system and result in Pneumonia.
Some patients, especially those in high-risk groups, may experience complications, including the following:
- Bacteria in the bloodstream that might spread the infection to other organs, potentially causing organ failure.
- Lung abscess, which occurs if pus forms in a cavity in the lungs.
- Fluid accumulation around the lungs. If the fluid becomes infected, the patient might need to have it drained through a chest tube or removed with surgery.
- Difficulty breathing in enough oxygen. In such cases, the patient might need to be hospitalized and use a mechanical ventilator while your lung heals.
Pneumonia can affect anyone. But the two age groups at highest risk are people older than age 65, and infants and children younger than the age of 2. In the latter group, the immune system of the patients is still developing. Other risk factors include:
- Certain chronic diseases, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and heart disease;
- Weakened or suppressed immune system, due to factors such as HIV/AIDS, organ transplant, chemotherapy;
- Smoking; and
- Being placed on a ventilator while hospitalized.
People at high risk should also get a seasonal flu shot, get a pneumonia vaccination, avoid smoking, avoid alcohol misuse, stay rested and fit. In addition to that, a person can help prevent pneumonia by practicing good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. Hence, when they cough or sneeze, they should cover their mouth and nose with a tissue to catch the germs, and they must wash their hands regularly to avoid transferring germs to other people or objects.