Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a lung infection characterized by inflammation of the air sacs in either one or both lungs. The air sacs may be filled with pus or fluid causing cough with pus, chills, fever and breathing difficulties. Pneumonia varies in severity from mild to fatal. It is more serious in children, infants, the aged (above 65years) and in those with pre-existing health problems or jeopardized immune system. Fortunately pneumonia can be treated using antibiotics or antiviral medications depending on the cause.Image
 
Causes of Pneumonia
Pneumonia can be caused by various agents. The most common causes of pneumonia are viruses and bacteria in the air. Normally, your body’s immune system is able to thwart these viruses and bacteria from causing pneumonia, but sometimes the body is overpowered. Pneumonia is likely to attack when one has flu or a cold, as these illnesses suppress the immune system. Having a chronic or long term ailment such as asthma, cancer, diabetes or heart disease increases susceptibility to pneumonia.  
 
Symptoms
Symptoms of pneumonia vary widely from mild to severe based on the germ causing it, age and overall health. Symptoms that are mild are usually similar to those exhibited by cold or flu but stay longer. Symptoms of pneumonia generally include;
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fever, chills and sweating
  • Chest pain when breathing deeply or cough
  • Cough that may result to thick sticky fluid
  • Lower than normal body temperature in the elderly and in people with pre-existing health conditions.
  • Increased heartbeat.
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea, diarrhea or vomiting

Newborns and infants may not exhibit any signs of infection. They may vomit, cough, have a fever, appears restless, fatigued or difficulty in eating and breathing. In older people, symptoms may include sudden changes in mental awareness. Pneumonia may be detected through taking an X-ray of the chest, blood test or pulse oximetry. Sputum from the lungs may also be tested to establish the cause of infection which will help determine treatment.  

Risk Factors

  • Pneumonia is likely in people older than 65 and infants.
  • Smoking and being placed in a ventilator also increases risk.
  • Chronic diseases such as heart disease as well as suppressed immunity such as HIV/AIDS, chemotherapy or organ transplant increases the risk.

Treatment and Drugs

Pneumonia treatment involves curing the infection and preventing any complications. Treatment of pneumonia depends on the age, general health and the cause of infection.

Antibiotics:  antibiotics are used to treat bacterial pneumonia. It may take long before establishing the type of bacteria causing the infection and to establish the right antibiotic to treat it. Symptoms usually improve in three days’ time, but it takes twice as much in smokers.

Antiviral medication: used to treat pneumonia caused by viruses, symptoms improve within one to three weeks. Fever reducers such as ibuprofen and aspirin as well as cough medicine may be administered as part of treatment. Cough medicine calm down coughs although it’s recommended not to eliminate coughs completely as coughing helps loosen and move fluids in the lungs. A person may become hospitalized if:

  • They are older than 65 years,
  • have had mental disorientation,
  • have lower blood pressure,
  • If one needs assistance with breathing,
  • If the temperatures are below normal body temperature or
  • If nausea and vomiting prevent a person from sustaining oral medications.
  • Children may also be admitted if they have low oxygen levels; appear dehydrated; are excessively sleepy; have low temperature or are younger than 3 months old. 

To help recover fast, one should get plenty of rest, take lots of fluids, complete medication and avoid working.

Complications Normally, people are successfully treated for pneumonia with drugs. However, in rare cases complications may occur including:

  • Lung swelling which occurs when pus forms in a cavity in the lung;
  • Bacteria in the blood stream which can spread the infection to other parts of the body leading to organ failure;
  • Fluid accumulation around the lungs which may be drained using a tube or through a surgery; and
  • Difficulty in breathing which may require a ventilator.

Prevention

Pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination. Vaccination against pneumococcus is recommended for people older than 65 years or anyone in increased risk for pneumococcal pneumonia such as people working in healthcare facility, or those living in nursing homes regardless of their age. Having a seasonal flu shot can prevent viral pneumonia caused by influenza virus. In addition, good hygiene, avoiding smoking, eating healthy to keep immunity strong can help prevent pneumonia.

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