There are several very common types of lung infections that you probably know about. There are also some not-so-common lung infections whose names probably sound familiar, but they’re no longer prevalent in most developed countries. You may not know as much about these. We’ll cover them, nonetheless, in this article.
There are two types of lung infections that still affect millions of people annually in the U.S. and other developed countries. These are pneumonia and acute bronchitis.
Pneumonia is a lung infection that occurs when the air sacs in your lungs fill with fluid. Most of the time, pneumonia is caused by bacteria or viruses, but in rare instances, you can also get it from parasites or other harmful organisms that invade your respiratory system. Pneumonia results in more than one million hospitalizations annually in the United States, and more than 50,000 deaths. It is especially dangerous for the very young and the very old.
Acute bronchitis is a type of lung infection that results from an irritation or inflammation of the air passages from the windpipe to the lungs. This causes swelling of the lining of these passages, which reduces the space for air to flow through. When you have acute bronchitis, your bronchial tubes also secrete an inflammatory fluid that makes breathing difficult. Acute bronchitis is usually caused by viruses, but it can also come from bacteria or chemicals that get into the lungs.
In the past, there have been other dangerous types of lung infections have now become rare in the industrialized nations of the world. But they are still a significant threat in underdeveloped countries.
Whooping cough, or pertussis, is one of these. Whooping cough is an infection that triggers repeated spasmodic coughing. Each coughing episode ends with a distinctive whoop that gives the disease its name. The cough is so forceful that it continues until the person runs out of breath. It is caused by species of bacteria called Bordetella pertussis. It’s estimated that it affects 30-50 million individuals a year worldwide, but is rare in the U.S. because a vaccine is available.
Tuberculosis, or TB, is another type of lung infection that has virtually been wiped out in developed countries, but still kills many people every year in the Third World. It’s caused by bacteria and can therefore be treated with antibiotics.
Occasionally, specific types of lung infections suddenly appear in various places. One such type known as SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused a number of deaths in 2003. SARS is a form of pneumonia that was caused by a virus. It was highly contagious and spread quickly thanks to modern transportation systems like air travel. The virus still exists, but aggressive cntrol programs by health organizations around the world have greatly reduced its prevalence.
Legionnaire’s disease is a severe type of pneumonia. It’s caused by a bacterium called legionella and it is especially dangerous for those who smoke, the elderly, and individuals with weakened or damaged immune systems. It was named “Legionnaire’s disease” because it first came to public attention during an outbreak at an American Legion convention in Philadelphia in 1976. More than 30 Legionnaires died from the disease in a few days.
Most people contract a lung infection due to a virus, bacteria, parasites or fungi. These agents easily float on air currents from one individual to another. They can also land on countertops and door knobs that you touch with your hands. The germs transfer into your respiratory system when you touch your mouth or nose.
It’s also possible (though unusual) for a lung infection to result from the side effects of certain medications, chemicals, and other toxins.
Most lung infections are characterized by similar symptoms, including a cough, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and possibly wheezing. Severe cases may feature hemoptysis, or coughing up blood. People with a lung infection sometimes have an oxygen shortage because their respiratory system isn’t working efficiently, and this results in a bluish skin discoloration known as cyanosis.
A lung infection is also commonly called a chest infection or bronchial infection.