Pneumonia is a lung infection that can range from mild to severe that you have to go to the hospital. It occurs when an infection causes the air sacs in your lungs (your doctor will call them alveoli) to fill with fluid or pus. That can make it difficult for you to breathe in enough oxygen to get into your bloodstream. Anyone can get this lung infection. But babies younger than 2 and people older than 65 are at higher risk. That's because your immune system may not be strong enough to fight it.
Pneumonia can affect one or both lungs. You can also have it and be totally unaware of it. Doctors call it walking pneumonia. Causes include bacteria, viruses, and fungi. If your pneumonia is the result of bacteria or a virus, you can spread it to someone else. Lifestyle habits, like smoking cigarettes and drinking too much alcohol, can also increase your chances of getting pneumonia.
Is Pneumonia Contagious?
The germs that cause pneumonia are contagious. This means that they can be passed from person to person. By inhaling airborne droplets from sneezing or coughing, both viral and bacterial pneumonia can be transferred to others. This type of pneumonia can be transmitted by coming into contact with bacteria or viruses that cause pneumonia on surfaces or objects. Fungal pneumonia can be contracted from the environment. It is not, however, passed on from person to person.
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How is Pneumonia Spread from Person to Person?
Pneumonia is spread when droplets of fluid containing the pneumonia bacteria or virus are thrown into the air when someone coughs or sneezes and is then inhaled by others. You can also get pneumonia by touching an object previously touched by the person with pneumonia (which transfers germs) or by touching a tissue used by the infected person and then touching their mouth or nose.
Pneumonia symptoms can range from being so mild that you don't even notice them to being so severe that you need to be admitted to the hospital. The type of bacteria that causes pneumonia, your age, and your overall health all affect how your body reacts to the illness. Signs and symptoms of pneumonia can include:
Greenish, yellow, or even red mucus can be produced by coughing.
Fever, sweating, and chills.
Rapid, shallow breathing
Sharp or stabbing chest pain that worsens when you breathe deeply or cough
Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue.
Nausea and vomiting, especially in young children.
Confusion, especially in older people.
The main causes of pneumonia are:
Bacterial Pneumonia: This type is caused by various bacteria. The most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae. It usually occurs when the body is weakened in some way, such as by illness, poor nutrition, old age, or impaired immunity, and the bacteria are able to work their way into the lungs. Bacterial pneumonia can affect all ages, but you are at greater risk if you abuse alcohol, smoke cigarettes, are debilitated, have recently had surgery, have a respiratory disease or viral infection, or have a weakened immune system.
Viral Pneumonia: This type is caused by various viruses, including the flu (influenza), and is responsible for about one-third of all pneumonia cases. You may be more likely to get bacterial pneumonia if you have viral pneumonia.
Mycoplasma Pneumonia: This type has somewhat different symptoms and physical signs and is referred to as atypical pneumonia. It is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It generally causes mild, widespread pneumonia that affects all age groups.
Other Pneumonia: There are other less common pneumonias that may be caused by other infections including fungi.
Is Pneumonia Curable?
A variety of infectious agents cause pneumonia. With proper recognition and treatment, many cases of pneumonia can be cured without complications. For bacterial infections, stopping antibiotics early can make the infection not go away completely. This means that your pneumonia could come back. Early discontinuation of antibiotics can also contribute to antibiotic resistance. Antibiotic-resistant infections are more difficult to treat.
Viral pneumonia often resolves in one to three weeks with home treatment. In some cases, you may need antivirals. Antifungal medications treat yeast pneumonia and may require a longer period of treatment.
Your doctor will start with questions about your symptoms and your medical histories, such as whether you smoke and have been around sick people at home, school, or work. Then they will listen to your lungs. If you have pneumonia, you may hear cracking, bubbling, or rumbling when you inhale. If your doctor thinks you may have pneumonia, they will probably do tests, including:
A chest X-ray to find the infection in your lungs and how far it has spread.
Pulse oximetry to measure the level of oxygen in the blood.
A sputum test to check the fluid in your lungs for the cause of an infection.
If your symptoms started in the hospital or if you have other health problems, your doctor may do more tests, such as:
An arterial blood gas test to measure oxygen in a small amount of blood drawn from one of your arteries.
Bronchoscopy to check your airways for blockages or other problems.
A CT scan to get a more detailed picture of your lungs.
A pleural fluid culture, in which the doctor removes a small amount of fluid from the tissues around the lungs to look for bacteria that can cause pneumonia.
Treatment for Pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia you have, the germ causing your infection, and how severe your pneumonia is. Most people who have community-acquired pneumonia the most common type of Pneumonia are treated at home. The goals of treatment are to cure the infection and prevent complications. Bacterial pneumonia is treated with medicines called antibiotics. You should take antibiotics as your doctor prescribes. You may start to feel better before you finish the medicine, but you should continue taking it as prescribed. If you stop too soon, pneumonia may come back.
Most people begin to improve after one to three days of antibiotic treatment. This means that they should feel better and have fewer symptoms such as cough and fever. Viral pneumonia Antibiotics don’t work when the cause of pneumonia is a virus. If you have viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medicine to treat it. Viral pneumonia usually improves in one to three weeks. Treating severe symptoms You may need to be treated in a hospital if:
Your symptoms are severe
You’re at risk for complications because of other health problems
If the level of oxygen in your bloodstream is low, you may receive oxygen therapy. If you have bacterial pneumonia, your doctor may give you antibiotics through an intravenous (IV) line inserted into a vein. General treatment advice and follow-up care. If you have pneumonia, follow your treatment plan, take all medicines as prescribed, and get follow-up medical care.
Although anyone can get pneumonia, some people are at higher risk. Pneumonia occurs when an infection develops inside the lungs. It can cause respiratory complications and spread to other parts of the body, such as the bloodstream. People who are most likely to get pneumonia include:
Immune systems that have not fully matured in children and newborns
Older people with weakened immune systems
People taking medications that suppress the immune system
People with diseases that weaken the immune system, such as cancer, HIV, and AIDS
People with autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis
Persons suffering from a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), or asthma
People at risk for pneumonia should be especially careful around people who have recently had pneumonia or another respiratory infection.
Frequently Asked Questions:
Yes. Children under the age of 2 are at risk because their immune systems are still developing, and adults over 65 are at higher risk because, as we age, our immune systems slow down in responding to infection.
Viral pneumonia usually goes away on its own. Therefore, treatment focuses on alleviating some of the symptoms. A person with viral pneumonia should get enough rest and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids.
Pneumonia can range from mild to severe or life-threatening infection and can sometimes lead to death.
Pneumonia can be contagious for 2-14 days. Generally, the goal of medicines given for pneumonia is to limit the spread of the disease. A person with bacterial pneumonia will stop being contagious within two days after taking antibiotics.
Surprisingly, even with severe pneumonia, the lung usually recovers and has no lasting damage, although occasionally there may be some scars on the lung (rarely leading to bronchiectasis) or on the surface of the lung (the pleura).
First-line antibiotics that might be selected include the macrolide antibiotics azithromycin (Zithromax) or clarithromycin (Biaxin XL); or the tetracycline known as doxycycline.
Some of the viruses that cause colds and flu can cause pneumonia. Viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in children younger than 5 years old. Viral pneumonia is usually mild. But in some cases, it can become very serious.