Pneumonia kills over 60,000 Americans every year and it remains a leading cause of death of children worldwide. This is tragic considering the fact that the disease can be cured with early detection and treatment.
Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lung in which the air spaces are filled with mucus and fluid, making breathing difficult. The disease has many causes and can be fatal in very young and very old patients.
Bacterial pneumonia, which is the more dangerous type of the disease, can be caused by infection with pneumococci, staphylococci and other forms of bacte¬ria. This is usually confined to just one area of the lung and is called lobar pneumonia.
“Among children 12 and under, the most frequent cause of pneumonia is the bacteria pneumococcus. Among adolescents and young adults, the most frequent infective agent is a bacteria like microbe called Mycoplasma pneumoniae; symptoms at first are like those of a chest cold, with a dry cough and then a sputum producing cough,” explained Dr. Harold C. Neu, professor of medicine and head of Infectious Dis¬eases in “The Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons Complete Home Medical Guide.”
“Bacterial pneumonia can also be a complication of influenza A. Often the symptoms of flu have disappeared, then suddenly the patient is worse with fever, cough, and shortness of breath. The recuperating victim this time has a full-fledged case of bacterial pneumonia and all its distressing symptoms. These secondary infections are most often caused by the pneumoccos, Haemophilus, or worst of all the staphylococcus. This microbe can be so deadly so doctors usually prescribe antibiotics that can destroy all three of the possible microorganisms,” Neu added.
Another type of bacterial pneumonia is caused by streptococci (Diplococcus pneumoniae) and usually follows an upper respiratory tract infection. It is characterized by the sudden onset of chills and high fever.
The risk of acquiring the disease increases in those who have AIDS, heart disease, and diabetes, those who smoke and drink a lot, exposure to certain chemicals or pollutants, and in those who are hospitalized or have had surgery. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and the type of pneumonia you have.
“To diagnose pneumonia, the physician will first listen to the chest, checking for fine, crackling noises, and then tap it, being alert for characteristic dull thuds. A certain diagnosis cannot be made, however, without chest x-rays, which will show patches in the lungs where air sacs are filled with fluid and debris instead of air. To determine the particular infective agent, lab tests can be done on blood and sputum samples, but the results are not 100 percent accurate,” Neu said.
“How serious pneumonia is for you depends on your overall health and the type and extent of pneumonia you have. If you’re young and healthy, your pneumonia can usually be treated successfully. But if you have heart failure or lung ailments, especially from smoking, or if you’re older, your pneumonia may be harder to cure. You’re also more likely to develop complications, some of which can be life-threatening,” warned the Mayo Clinic.
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