Pneumonia is a type of lung infection that can range in severity from mild to life threatening. The condition is most serious for infants and children, people over the age of 65, and for those with weakened immune systems or other health problems.
The signs and symptoms of this lung problem can be mild or severe, depending on the germ causing the infection, your age and overall health. Symptoms of a mild lung infection are similar to those of a cold or flu, but they last longer.
- Cough, which may or may not produce phlegm
- Feeling short of breath
- Pain or tightness in the chest when breathing or coughing
Some people, especially those with a weakened immune system, who are over the age of 65, or who are in poor health, may have a low body temperature. This lung infection may cause older people to experience sudden changes in awareness.
Many different germs can cause lung infections, including viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. Most cases are the result of viruses, including adenoviruses, rhinovirus, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), human metapneumovirus and the parainfluenza virus. The influenza virus, commonly known as “the flu,” can also cause this condition.
This lung infection spreads in a variety of ways. The bacteria and viruses commonly inhabiting the noses and throats of children can infect the lungs if inhaled. The germs can also travel through airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough.
This condition often begins after an upper respiratory infection, which is an infection of your nose or throat. Symptoms of pneumonia typically begin two to three days after you get a cold or sore throat.
The infection then moves down into the air sacs, known as alveoli, in your lungs. Normally these alveoli fill with air when you breathe. These air sacs fill with pus and fluid when you have this lung infection, however, which makes breathing painful and limits the amount of oxygen you can take into your lungs.
Pneumonia Diagnosis and Treatment
This condition requires a medical diagnosis. Your doctor will request laboratory tests and imaging tests, such as an x-ray, to help diagnose your lung condition.
Treatment for this type of lung infection usually includes antibiotics to treat cases caused by bacteria. Treatment also includes medicine to relieve fever and cough.
Pneumonia may cause pleural effusion, a condition where excess fluid builds up in the pleural space between your lungs and the chest wall. Pleural effusion makes breathing even more painful and difficult. During thoracentesis, your lung doctor uses a needle and tube to remove this excess fluid to make it easier for you to breathe. This fluid can also help doctors determine what type of germ infected your lungs.
The condition is short term, usually resolving within days or weeks, especially with proper diagnosis and care.