Pneumonia: Description

PneumoniaPneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs which is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, one-third of all people who developed pneumonia subsequently died from the infection. Currently, over 3 million people develop pneumonia each year in the United States. Over a half a million of these people are admitted to a hospital for treatment. Although most of these people recover, approximately 5% will die from this disease. It is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. is an infection of one or both lungs which is usually caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Prior to the discovery of antibiotics, one-third of all people who developed pneumonia subsequently died from the infection. Currently, over 3 million people develop pneumonia each year in the United States. Over a half a million of these people are admitted to a hospital for treatment. Although most of these people recover, approximately 5% will die from this.

Some cases of pneumonia are contracted by breathing in small droplets that contain the organisms that can cause pneumonia. These droplets get into the air when a person infected with these germs coughs or sneezes. In other cases, it is caused when bacteria or viruses that are normally present in the mouth, throat, or nose inadvertently enter the lung. During sleep, it is quite common for people to aspirate secretions from the mouth, throat, or nose. Normally, the body's reflex response (coughing back up the secretions) and immune system will prevent the aspirated organisms from causing it. However, if a person is in a weakened condition from another illness, a severe it can develop. People with recent viral infections, lung disease, heart disease, and swallowing problems, as well as alcoholics, drug users, and those who have suffered a stroke or seizure are at higher risk for developing pneumonia than the general population.

Once organisms enter the lungs, they usually settle in the air sacs of the lung where they rapidly grow in number. This area of the lung then becomes filled with fluid and pus as the body attempts to fight off the infection.


Most people who develop pneumonia initially have symptoms of a cold which are then followed by a high fever, shaking chills, and a cough with sputum production. The sputum is usually discolored and sometimes bloody. People with this may become short of breath. The only pain fibers in the lung are on the surface of the lung, in the area known as the pleura. Chest pain may develop if the outer pleural aspects of the lung are involved. This pain is usually sharp and worsens when taking a deep breath, known as pleuritic pain.

In other cases of this, there can be a slow onset of symptoms. A worsening cough, headaches, and muscle aches may be the only symptoms. In some people with pneumonia, coughing is not a major symptom because the infection is located in areas of the lung away from the larger airways. At times, the individual's skin color may change and become dusky or purplish (a condition known as "cyanosis") due to their blood being poorly oxygenated.

Children and babies who develop pneumonia often do not have any specific signs of a chest infection but develop a fever, appear quite ill, and can become lethargic. Elderly people may also have few symptoms with it.

The person suffering from pneumonia may experience:

1. A cough that produces greenish or yellow sputum. 2. A very high fever, which may be accompanied by shaking chills. 3. Rapid breathing. 4. Chest pain. 5. A sharp or stabbing pain. 6. Experience headaches. 7. Exhaustion 8. Vomiting 9. Develop sweaty and clammy skin. 10. Wheezing. 11. Loss of appetite (in older children) or poor feeding (in infants).

Other symptoms include: Loss of appetite, fatigue, blueness of the skin, nausea, and person may experience joint pains and muscle aches.


Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms and the type of organism causing the infection.

Bacterial it (caused by the streptococcus pneumonia bacteria) is often treated with penicillin, ampicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin) and erythromycin. Bacterial pneumonia (caused by the hemophilus bacteria) is treated with antibiotics, such as cefuroxime (Ceftin), ampicillin-clavulanate (Augmentin), ofloxacin (Floxin), and trimethoprim-sulfanethoxazole (Bactrim and Septra). Bacterial pneumonia (caused by legionella pneumophilia and staphylococcus aureus bacteria) are treated with antibiotics, such as erythromycin.

Viral pneumonia does not respond to antibiotic treatment. This type of pneumonia usually resolves over time. If the lungs become infected with a secondary bacterial infection, the doctor will prescribe an appropriate antibiotic to eliminate the bacterial infection.

Mycoplasma pneumonia is often treated with antibiotics, such as erythromycin, clarithromycin (Biaxin), tetracycline or azithromycin (Zithromax).

In addition to the pharmaceutical intervention, the doctor will also recommend bed rest, plenty of fluids, therapeutic coughing, breathing exercises, proper diet, cough suppressants, pain relievers and fever reducers, such as aspirin (not for children) or acetaminophen. In severe cases, oxygen therapy and artificial ventilation may be required.

The course of pneumonia varies. Recovery time depends on the organism involved, the general health of the person and how promptly medical attention was obtained. A majority of sufferers recover completely within a few weeks, with residual coughing persisting between six and eight weeks after the infection has gone.

Causes and Risk factors for pneumonia

There are over 30 different causes of this, but the most common causes are bacteria (including mycoplasma) and viruses. Corresponding to these causes are the most common types of pneumonia - bacterial, viral, and mycoplasma pneumonia.

Bacterial pneumonia: Pneumonia-causing bacteria is present in many throats, but when the body's defenses are weakened (for example, by illness, old age, malnutrition or impaired immunity) the bacteria can multiply, working its way into the lungs, inflaming the air sacs and filling the lungs with liquid and pus. The bacteria that cause bacterial pneumonia are streptococcus it (resulting in lobar pneumonia), hemophilus influenza (resulting in bronchopneumonia), legionella pneumophilia (resulting in Legionnaires' disease) and staphylococcus aureus.

Viral pneumonia: Half of all pneumonias are believed to be caused by viruses, such as influenza (flu), adenovirus, coxsackievirus, chickenpox, measles, cytomegalovirus and respiratory syncytial virus. These viruses invade the lungs and multiply.

Mycoplasma pneumonia (also called "walking pneumonia"): Similar to bacterial pneumonia, the mycoplasmas multiply and spread, causing infection.

Some of the other pneumonia-related disorders are aspiration pneumonia, Chlamydia, Loffler's syndrome, pneumocystis carinii, pediatric and necrotizing pneumonia.


Pneumonia may be suspected when the doctor examines the patient and hears coarse breathing or crackling sounds when listening to a portion of the chest with a stethoscope. There may be wheezing, or the sounds of breathing may be faint in a particular area of the chest. A chest x-ray is usually ordered to confirm the diagnosis of this. The lungs have several segments referred to as lobes, usually two on the left and three on the right. When the pneumonia affects one of these lobes it is often referred to as lobar it. Some pneumonia has a more patchy distribution that does not involve specific lobes.

Sputum samples can be collected and examined under the microscope. If the caused by bacteria or fungi, the organisms can often be detected by this examination. A sample of the sputum can be grown in special incubators, and the offending organism can be subsequently identified. It is important to understand that the sputum specimen must contain little saliva from the mouth and be delivered to the laboratory fairly quickly. Otherwise, overgrowth of noninfecting bacteria may predominate.

A blood test that measures white blood cell count (WBC) may be performed. An individual's white blood cell count can often give a hint as to the severity of the this and whether it is caused by bacteria or a virus. An increased number of neutrophils, one type of WBC, is seen in bacterial infections, whereas an increase in lymphocytes, another type of WBC, is seen in viral infections.

Bronchoscopy is a procedure in which a thin, flexible, lighted viewing tube is inserted into the nose or mouth after a local anesthetic is administered. The breathing passages can then be directly examined by the doctor, and specimens from the infected part of the lung can be obtained.Sometimes, fluid collects in the pleural space around the lung as a result of the inflammation from it. This fluid is called a pleural effusion. If the amount of this fluid that develops is large enough, it can be removed by inserting a needle into the chest cavity and withdrawing the fluid with a syringe in a procedure called a thoracentesis. In some cases, this fluid can become severely inflamed (parapneumonic effusion) or infected (empyema) and may need to be removed by more aggressive surgical procedures.

Medicine and medications

Although experts differ on their recommendations, the first antibiotic used is usually one that kills a wide range of bacteria (broad-spectrum antibiotic). All antibiotics used have a high cure rate for pneumonia.

If you do not have to go to the hospital, your doctor may use any of the following antibiotics:

Macrolides: Such as azithromycin, clarithromycin, and erythromycin. Tetracyclines: Such as doxycycline. Fluoroquinolones: Such as gemifloxacin, levofloxacin, and moxifloxacin. If you have to go to the hospital, your doctor may use any of the above antibiotics. Other antibiotics that your doctor may use in this situation include: Cephalosporins: Such as ceftriaxone, cefotaxime, ceftazidime, or cefepime. Penicillins: Such as amoxicillin, amoxicillin with clavulanate, ampicillin, and ticarcillin with clavulanate. Vancomycin. DISCLAIMER: This information should not substitute for seeking responsible, professional medical care.


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