Pneumonia is a common but potentially deadly inflammation of the lungs, usually caused by an infection. When the air sacs in the lungs become infected, pus and other liquid fill them, making it difficult to breathe and difficult for oxygen to reach your blood. Pneumonia can affect a single section of your lungs, in which case it’s called lobar pneumonia, or it can affect patches throughout both lungs, in which case it’s called multifocal pneumonia. If both lungs are infected, it’s known as multibar pneumonia.
There are about 30 different causes of pneumonia. However, they all fall into one of these categories:
• Infective pneumonia: Inflammation and infection of the lungs and bronchial tubes that occurs when a bacteria (bacterial pneumonia) or virus (viral pneumonia) gets into the lungs and starts to reproduce.
• Aspiration pneumonia: An inflammation of the lungs and bronchial tubes caused by inhaling vomit, mucous, or other bodily fluids. Aspiration pneumonia can also be caused by inhaling certain chemicals.
Typical symptoms are cough, fever, sweats, shivers, being off food, and feeling generally unwell. Headaches, and aches and pains are common. You usually make more sputum which may become yellow/green, and is sometimes bloodstained.
You may become breathless, breathe fast, and develop a ‘tight chest’. A sharp pain in the side of the chest may develop if the infection involves the pleura. (This is the membrane between the lung and the chest wall.) A doctor may hear ‘crackles’ in the chest when listening with a stethoscope.
When a person encounters the symptoms of pneumonia – cough, shortness of breath, chest pain that fluctuates with breathing, fever accompanied with chills and sweats or aggravation of a flu or cold – he or she should consult a doctor right away because this condition may become lethal in some cases if left untreated.
If bacteria cause the pneumonia it can usually be easily treated with antibiotics. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics, but if your pneumonia is caused by a virus antibiotics may be used to help prevent any secondary infections.
Doctors treat pneumonia based on the type of pneumonia a person has as well as other individual factors, such as age and overall health. Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics. Fungal pneumonia is treated with antifungal agents. Viral pneumonia may be treated with antiviral medications but is more often treated simply with recommendations of rest and plenty of fluids. In addition, for all types of pneumonia, doctors often suggest taking over-the-counter medications to reduce fever and pain.
If the pneumonia is severe, or the person affected is either very old or frail they may need to be treated in hospital where antibiotics and extra fluids and can be given straight into the vein (intravenously). If breathing is difficult, extra oxygen can be given through a facemask. About one in every six people with pneumonia are ill enough to need this kind of specialised care.