by Kimberly Allen RN
Pneumonia is an inflammation in the lungs, specifically the tiny air sac’s called aveoli. There are approximately a half billion cases of pneumonia worldwide every year. In the US over 3 million people are diagnosed with pneumonia every year, of those more than a half million will need to be hospitalized for treatment. Most people will recover from pneumonia, however at least 5% of those diagnosed die from the illness. Currently in the US pneumonia is the 6th leading cause of death. Worldwide it is the leading cause of death in children, especially in low income countries.
Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria or viruses but can be caused by fungi or parasites as well. Pneumonia can also be chemically induced. there are several different types of pneumonia that you may hear the Dr refer to.
Infectious pneumonia is pneumonia that is caused by an infectious agent like bacteria or viruses.
Chemical pneumonia is caused by a chemical irritant like fumes from gasoline or chlorine.
Aspiration pneumonia develops when you breathe foreign matter like food into your lungs.
Traumatic pneumonia develops because of some type of trauma to the lungs like being in a car accident in which your chest is injured.
Walking pneumonia is the term given to pneumonia when the symptoms are mild enough that you are able to continue your normal activities, it is usually caused by a virus.
Double pneumonia is the term used for pneumonia that has developed in 2 separate lobes of the lungs, one on the right and one on the left. This type can be caused by any of the germs that cause pneumonia and tends to be more serious.
Atypical pneumonia is the term medical people have given to all the pneumonia’s that don’t fit a specific profile including walking pneumonia.
The different types of pneumonia fall into 2 categories, community acquired pneumonia and hospital acquired pneumonia. Community acquired pneumonia’s are just what the name implies, pneumonia’s that you develop by coming into contact with germs during the normal course of your day. The most common cause of community acquired pneumonia is the bacteria streptococcus pneumonia. Hospital acquired often referred to as health care acquired pneumonia is a significant problem in health care today, not jsut in hospitals but in other health care settings as well. This type is almost always bacterial and very difficult to treat.
The symptoms of pneumonia can vary from mild to severe depending on the type, cause and your general health. People that are healthy with an unimpaired immune system usually develop milder symptoms of pneumonia. In the early stages pneumonia frequently mimic’s the flu with a cough. As the pneumonia progresses you’ll develop a fever with chills and the cough will worsen. Because pneumonia affects the aveoli it interferes with the oxygenation of tissues, this can lead to issues like fatigue, weakness, muscle aches and headaches.
Treatment of pneumonia depends on many factors including the cause, your general health, and is it a community or health care acquired pneumonia. Antibiotics are used if it’s determined to be caused by bacteria, however, your Dr may want to ru tests to determine exactly which bacteria is the causing agent. antibiotics are not effective against viruses so they are not given if the pneumonia is viral. Most viral pneumonia’s will resolve with rest and fluids, however, if you have an impaired immune system your Dr may prescribe antiviral medication.
The best way to prevent pneumonia is through vaccination. Because the flu can lead to viral pneumonia getting your seasonal flu shot as well as getting your children theirs is crucial. there is also a one time pneumonia vaccine available. This vaccine is especially recommended for people at risk for developing pneumonia like the elderly and people with impaired immune systems. Other measures would include frequent hand washing. Your hands come into contact with numerous germs every day including those that cause pneumonia, practicing good hand washing is the best way to prevent them from spreading. Staying healthy and eating a well balanced diet along with exercise will help you maintain a strong healthy immune system that is able to fight off many germs before they can become a serious infection.