What is Pneumonia?

Sick Man in Bed

Pneumonia is a blanket term for an infection in the lungs. There is no single cause for pneumonia, which may affect both lungs simultaneously or be isolated to one lung.

Pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, parasites, or even inhaling various chemicals. Most forms of pneumonia are bacterial, but roughly one-third of cases in the United States are caused by respiratory viruses. The most common culprit in these cases is influenza, more casually known simply as “the flu.” Elderly people and young children are especially vulnerable to pneumonia from any cause, as are others with weakened or compromised immune systems, such as alcoholics, smokers, and people suffering from other diseases, whether they are chronic or acute.

When infection manages to settle in the lungs, the air sacs in the lungs (alveoli) become inflamed and filled with fluid. This causes the common pneumonia symptoms, which include:

  • Chest pain which may worsen with coughing or taking deep breaths

  • Fever, often accompanied by sweating and shiver-inducing chills

  • Coughing, which may produce phlegm

  • Shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea

Pneumonia can often be successfully treated with medication. In some cases, however, a patient may experience complications. These complications are more common in the high-risk patients mentioned above. Some of the more common complications of pneumonia include:

  • Bacteremia – This is the technical term for bacteria in the bloodstream. This occurs when the infection-causing bacteria from the lungs, flows into other areas of the body. This can cause the infection to spread to other organs, which has the potential to lead to organ failure.

  • Lung Abscess – An abscess occurs when pus fills a cavity. When a bacterial infection is already present in the lungs, the patient is at an increased risk of developing an abscess in the lungs. Abscesses are usually treated successfully with antibiotics, though some cases may necessitate drainage or surgery.

  • Pleural Effusion – This is a fancy term for fluid gathering around the lungs. Treatment for this is usually just a matter of treating the underlying condition. However, if the fluid around the lungs becomes infected, the fluid may need to be drained through a tube inserted into the chest or via surgery.

  • Difficulty breathing – An average case of pneumonia may cause wheezing and shortness of breath. Severe cases, however, may cause such difficulty breathing that the patient cannot get an adequate amount of oxygen. This necessitates hospitalization, during which the patient will likely be placed on a breathing machine until the lung heals.

Only your doctor is able to determine if you have pneumonia and advise you how to treat it. Contact your regular doctor if you have symptoms that may be pneumonia.


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