Introduction to Pneumonia
Pneumonia is a condition where part of the lung becomes inflamed.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a condition where part of the lung becomes inflamed. The cause of this inflammation which is almost always caused by an infection. When your lungs become inflamed, the air sacs fills with fluid and this causes the symptoms of a chest infection.
Pneumonia can affect anyone at any age although it is more common in the extremes of ages and those with existing lung problems such as COPD, those who have a weakened immune system (e.g. chemotherapy or HIV) or those who smoke. Pneumonia peaks in different seasons, being more common in autumn and winter; a similar trend to that of the common cold.
The condition is treatable and your doctor will assess whether you need to be admitted to hospital, however, a lot of cases can be managed at home with rest, fluids and antibiotics if they are indicated.
What are the causes for Pneumonia?
Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or viruses. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common with an organism called Streptococcus pneumoniae being responsible. This is best treated with antibiotics and your doctor may take a sample of your sputum to check what bacteria is present, if any.
Viruses can also cause pneumonia, however, antibiotics will not be effective in treating this. If the infection is serious, supportive care can be given in hospital.
People who are at high risk of infection should try and get the annual pneumonia jab and/or the flu jab to reduce the likelihood of getting this infection, which may be especially problematic for these high risk patients.
Patients who have difficulty swallowing or who suffer from acid reflux can be at higher risk of developing aspiration pneumonia. This is where food or stomach contents (foreign material) enters the lung and causes inflammation, usually due to infection.
What are the symptoms of Pneumonia?
Common symptoms of pneumonia include a cough, fever and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing. The cough is usually productive of thick mucus that can be green, yellow, brown or rust coloured. You should see your doctor if you have these symptoms and generally feel unwell. They may refer you for a chest x-ray, listen to your chest and perform other investigations as these can reveal the presence of an infection.
It is important that you seek emergency medical attention for rapid shortness of breath, chest pain or confusion as this could be due to something serious.
How is Pneumonia treated?
Bacterial pneumonia can be treated effectively with antibiotics alongside fluid and rest. Unless your infection is serious or you are a patient who is ‘at-risk’, you will probably be managed at home. Viral pneumonia is less common and patients sometimes receive antibiotics as the doctor usually initially assumes that it is bacterial. Fluids and rest should see the infection resolve over time.
Some patients may be admitted into hospital to be observed and to be given more intensive treatment and nursing care. Pneumonia may become complicated with conditions such as respiratory failure, abscess formation or septicaemia (when the infection spreads to the blood). All of these complications, require immediate hospital care.