Pneumonia in Children: Causes, Signs, Preventions and Treatment
Pneumonia is a lung infection. It is frequently caused by a virus or a bacterial infection. These germs cause the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid (phlegm or mucus). This makes it difficult to breathe and makes your child cough. "Walking" pneumonia is a non-medical word that describes a mild case of bacterial pneumonia. Frequently, the youngster is not ill enough to stay at home. He or she can still walk with little difficulty.
Pneumonia is spread by infected people who carry the germs in droplets of liquid in their throat, nose, or mouth. The infected person coughs up germs in the air. Your child inhales the germs or comes into direct contact with the saliva or mucosa of the infected person by touching something. It is possible to get pneumonia from someone who does not know they are sick. You cannot “catch” pneumonia by walking outside without a coat.
Pneumonia occurs most often during cold months when children spend most of their time indoors in close contact with other people. Children under the age of 2 are at the highest risk of pneumonia. Almost everyone makes a full recovery with proper medical care.
What Are the Different Types of Pneumonia?
The main types of pneumonia are:
This is caused by various bacteria. Streptococcus pneumonia is the most common bacteria that causes bacterial pneumonia. Many other bacteria can cause bacterial pneumonia, including:
- Group B streptococcus
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Group A streptococcus
Bacterial pneumonia can have a rapid onset and the following symptoms can occur:
- Productive cough
- Chest pain
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Decreased appetite
This is caused by a variety of viruses, including the ones listed below:
- Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV (seen most often in children younger than 5 years old)
- Parainfluenza virus
- Flu virus
The first symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia. However, with viral pneumonia, respiratory involvement occurs slowly. Wheezing may occur and the cough may get worse. Viral pneumonia can make a child susceptible to bacterial pneumonia.
This presents symptoms and physical signs that are somewhat different from other types of pneumonia. They usually cause mild, generalized pneumonia that affects all age groups, but most commonly in older children. Symptoms rarely start with a cold and may include:
- Cough that is persistent and can last three to four weeks.
- A severe cough may produce some mucus.
Other less common causes of pneumonia include breathing food, beverages, fumes, or dust, as well as fungus.
Causes of Pneumonia in Children
Children are susceptible to pneumonia caused by viruses, bacteria, and other microbes. Pneumonia often develops as a complication of another illness such as the flu or a viral upper respiratory infection. The passages in our nose and throat allow microorganisms to enter our airways and infect the air sacs in our lungs.
Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) is a virus that is commonly seen in children aged 5 and under who have pneumonia. Children younger than 1-year-old are at increased risk for pneumonia if they are exposed to secondhand smoke. The following conditions can increase a child's risk of microorganism-caused pneumonia:
- Compromised Immune System
- Chronic health problems like cystic fibrosis or asthma
- Lung or airway problems
What Are the Signs of Pneumonia in Children?
Symptoms may be a little different for each child. They can also depend on the cause of pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia cases occur suddenly with these symptoms:
- Cough that produces mucus
- Cough pain
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness (fatigue)
The first symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia. But with viral pneumonia, breathing problems happen slowly. Your child's cough may worsen and he or she may wheeze. Viral pneumonia can increase a child's risk for bacterial pneumonia. Besides the symptoms indicated above, your kid may exhibit:
- Shaking chills
- Fast or difficult breathing
The symptoms of pneumonia may resemble other health problems. Make an appointment for your kid to visit a doctor for a diagnosis.
How is Pneumonia Diagnosed in Children?
Your pediatrician can often diagnose pneumonia with a complete medical history and physical exam. He or she may order the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:
- Chest X-Ray: This test creates images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
- Blood Test: A blood count searches for evidence of infection. The quantity of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood is measured by an arterial blood gas test.
- Sputum Culture: This test is done on mucus (sputum) that is expelled from the lungs into the mouth. You can find out if your child has an infection. It is not done routinely because it is difficult to obtain sputum samples from children.
- Pulse Oximetry: A little piece of equipment that monitors the quantity of oxygen in the blood is known as an oximeter. To obtain this measurement, the provider sticks a small sensor on a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen on the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not heat.
- CT Scan of the Chest: This test takes pictures of structures in the chest. It is rarely done.
- Bronchoscopy: This method is used to view the lungs' airways. It is seldom done.
- Pleural Fluid Culture: This test takes a sample of fluid from the space between the lungs and the chest wall (pleural space). Fluid may build up in this area from pneumonia. This fluid can be infected with the same bacteria as the lung. Or inflammation may simply cause the fluid in the lung.
Treatment of Pneumonia in Children
How well pneumonia treatment works depends on whether the cause was a virus or bacteria. Doctors rely on a physical exam and tests, including chest X-rays and blood tests, to diagnose pneumonia. They may order a sputum culture to confirm a lung infection and use a pulse oximeter to measure your child's oxygen levels.
If a virus causes a child's pneumonia, treatment options are more limited. Doctors may recommend rest and medication to keep your child's fever low if he has one. It is recommended not to administer cough suppressants with codeine or dextromethorphan to children with pneumonia. Coughing helps to expel excess mucus and clears the lungs.
In circumstances when bacteria cause pneumonia, antibiotics can be useful. If your doctor prescribes antibiotics to treat your child's pneumonia, you should give the recommended dose as often as your doctor tells you. Avoid the temptation to discontinue their use once your child has shown improvement. Bacteria may still be in your child's lungs, and if you stop giving your child antibiotics, pneumonia may come back.
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
Pneumonia is not contagious, but the viruses and bacteria in the upper respiratory tract that cause it are. When these germs are in a person's mouth or nose, that person can spread the disease by coughing and sneezing. Sharing drinking glasses and silverware and touching used tissues or handkerchiefs from an infected person can also spread pneumonia. If someone in your household has a respiratory or throat infection, keep your drinking glasses and utensils separate from those of other family members, and wash your hands well and often, especially if you are handling used tissues or dirty tissues.
Prevention of Pneumonia in Children
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be prevented with a vaccine that protects against 13 types of pneumococcal pneumonia. Doctors recommend children receive a series of vaccines starting at 2 months of age. Talk to your pediatrician about this vaccine. There is another vaccine available for children over the age of 2 who are at higher risk for pneumonia. Talk to your pediatrician to see if it is recommended for your child. Also make sure your child is up to date on all vaccinations, including the annual flu shot. Pneumonia can occur after illnesses like whooping cough and the flu.
You may also assist your child to avoid pneumonia by teaching him or her proper hygiene. When your child coughs or sneezes, teach them to cover their nose and mouth. Your child should wash his hands often too. These measures can also help prevent other infections.
Your child can be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. Two types of vaccinations can aid in the prevention of pneumococcal illness. The right vaccine for your child depends on his age and risk factors. Talk to your child's healthcare provider about which vaccine is best for your child and when to get it.