Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lung tissue. It is usually due to infection. Pneumonia tends to be more serious than bronchitis. Bronchitis is an inflammation or infection of the large airways. Sometimes bronchitis and pneumonia occur together which is called bronchopneumonia.
What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is commonly caused by an infection with a bacterium or virus. There are 3 or 4 different bacteria that are the most common causes of pneumonia. Non-infective pneumonia is caused by inhaling poisons or chemicals.
How does pneumonia occur?
You may breathe in some bacteria, viruses, or other germs. Sometimes the germs multiply and cause lung infections. This is more likely to happen if you are already in poor health. For example: if you are frail or elderly, if you have a chest disease or if you have a low immunity to infection. However, even healthy people sometimes develop pneumonia.
How serious is pneumonia?
If you were previously well; with treatment, you are likely to make a full recovery. However, some bacteria, viruses, and other germs are more serious than others. Some people become very ill and require hospital admission. Occasionally, some people who were previously well die from pneumonia.
If you are already in poor health; you are more likely to become seriously ill with pneumonia. Pneumonia is a common cause of death in people who are already unwell – for example, people in the late or terminal stages of a cancer.
What are the symptoms?
Typical symptoms are cough, fever, sweats, shivers, being off your food and feeling generally unwell. Headaches and aches and pains are common. You usually make more sputum. This may become yellow/green colored 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. (The membrane between the lung and the chest wall.) A doctor may hear crackles in the chest when listening with a stethoscope.
An antibiotic is prescribed when pneumonia is suspected. Antibiotic treatment is usually effective and you can expect to recover fully. You may feel tired for a while after the infection has cleared.
- Have lots to drink, to avoid becoming dehydrated.
- Take regular paracetamol to ease fever and headaches.
- Hospital admission may be advised if you have severe pneumonia, or if symptoms do not quickly improve after you have started antibiotic treatment.
- A chest X-ray may be taken to confirm the diagnosis and the extent of the infection.
- Blood tests and sputum tests may be taken to find which bacterium is causing the pneumonia.
- Sometimes oxygen and other supportive treatments are needed if you have severe pneumonia.
Immunization against the pneumococcus (common cause of bacterial pneumonia) and the annual influenza (flu) virus immunization are advised if you are at greater risk of developing these infections.
The overall outlook of Pneumonia recovery is very good if treated early. Get your annual influenza immunization to reduce the risk of developing these infections.