Pneumonia During Childhood

Pneumonia involves an inflammation of the lungs. It is most always caused by an infection that can be either viral or bacterial. However this infection is usually viral and begins in the upper part of the respiratory tract. It causes a patchy inflammation in the lower sections of the lungs. This is often referred to as bronchopneumonia.

Bronchopneumonia often follows childhood diseases such as measles, whooping cough and chickenpox. Children who have cystic fibrosis are especially susceptible to bronchopneumonia. Older children may come down with lobar pneumonia. In lobar pneumonia, one or more of the lobes of the lungs become infected. The common infecting agent is the bacterium Pneumococcus. Bronchopneumonia begins with a cold that lasts about two to three days. Then the child’s temperature rises to 101 degrees F. The child’s breathing becomes more rapid than normal and a dry cough develops. Sometimes the child will wheeze. If the case is very serious, cyanosis will develop around the lips. Cyanosis is the medical term for blueness of the skin.

It is important to seek medical attention immediately if your child develops a temperature and has difficulty breathing. This is particularly vital for children under six months old. Unless cyanosis is present, your physician will probably decide the child can be taken care of at home. Recovery will depend upon the child’s immune system. Bronchopneumonia is a viral infection and antibiotics are not effective in treating viruses. The physician will probably prescribe a fever-reducing drug and instruct you to bathe the child’s entire body in tepid water. You will also be reminded to give plenty of liquids. Healthy children usually recover from pneumonia within a week. It is crucial to get a child to a hospital if cyanosis is present. Then it may be necessary to put the child into a humid oxygen tent.

Lobar pneumonia is very different from bronchopneumonia. It does not begin with a cold. The child suddenly becomes ill and the temperature shoots up to 104 degrees F very quickly. Lobar pneumonia is accompanied by rapid breathing and a dry cough. Pleurisy sometimes develops and if so, the child will complain of a pain in the chest. It is important to lower the fever as high temperatures in children can cause convulsions. The physician will recommend a temperature-lowering drug and instruct parents to bathe the child’s body with tepid water. Since lobar pneumonia is caused by a bacterium, antibiotics will be given by mouth. If the physician deems that the infection is very severe, the antibiotic may be administered by injection. Neither bronchopneumonia nor lobar pneumonia are common diseases in children but of the two, bronchopneumonia occurs more often.

Pneumonia can also develop is a child inhales a foreign object. The inhaled object may partially block an air passage and then pass down into the lungs. When this happens, inflammation and infection can result. The physician will first remove the object with a bronchoscope and then treat the inflammation. Any child who suddenly has trouble breathing and turns bluish around the lips should be taken to the emergency room immediately.