In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, pneumonia has commonly been cited as one of the complications of coronavirus. Because of this, a lot of people have been asking the question “what is pneumonia?”
And it makes sense, since before the COVID-19 pandemic, people usually only heard of pneumonia, but did not really have an idea of what pneumonia is.
Read on to find out more about what pneumonia is, what causes it, how it is treated, and how it can be prevented.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia happens when a person’s lungs get infected by either a virus, bacteria, or fungi. This means that pneumonia can be caused by any number of diseases. However, the more common causes of pneumonia might be due to a viral or a bacterial infection.
Now that we know what is pneumonia, we need to understand what effects it has on the body.
The effects of pneumonia greatly vary depending on how severe the infection is, as well as what’s causing the infection in the first place.
Since pneumonia affects a person’s respiratory system, pneumonia can seem like a severe cold or flu for some people. But in more severe cases, it can cause breathing problems, and can permanently damage a person’s lungs, eventually causing death.
Pneumonia is especially dangerous for infants, young children, and persons aged 65 and above, since their immune systems aren’t as strong. This means that the infection can easily cause damage and lead to more severe complications.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), pneumonia is the single largest leading cause of death by an infection in children. In fact, in 2017 alone, 808,694 children under 5 years old died because of pneumonia.
In the Philippines, about 1,591 people die from pneumonia daily, which translates to more than 580,000 deaths yearly. In Luzon alone, 6 out of 10 deaths were the result of pneumonia. According to the Department of Health (DOH) the numbers are steadily rising.
Causes of Pneumonia
Pneumonia may be caused by any number of viruses, bacteria, and even fungi. Here are some of the most common causes:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae – this is a bacterial infection that’s the most common cause of pneumonia among children
- Haemophilus influenzae – another type of bacterial infection, and another common cause of pneumonia
- Respiratory syncytial virus – this is a viral infection, and is the most common cause of viral pneumonia
- Pneumocystis jiroveci – this is a fungal infection, and more common among infants diagnosed with HIV.
Other viruses such as SARS or COVID-19 can also cause pneumonia, along with other types of bacteria and fungi.
The severity of pneumonia can vary depending on the type of infection, as well as the person’s health. Infants, children, and the elderly are more susceptible to the severe forms of pneumonia because their immune systems aren’t as strong.
Signs and Symptoms
Because pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, most of the symptoms affect a person’s respiratory system. Here are some of the signs and symptoms to watch out for:
- Pain in the chest when you cough or breathe
- Feeling of tiredness or fatigue
- Difficulty breathing, or shortness of breath
- For bacterial pneumonia, cough with phlegm is more common, but for viral it is usually a dry cough
- For older patients, confusion is a common symptom
If you experience any of these symptoms, it would be a good idea to get checked by your doctor.
Doctors can check for pneumonia by listening to your breathing, or by looking at your lips or fingertips to see if there is a purple hue. This means that you might have low oxygen in your blood.
The diagnosis is usually confirmed by an X-ray, wherein the infection can be clearly seen.
To further identify the cause of pneumonia, blood samples or samples of your mucus might be taken to the lab to be tested. This would help in identifying the specific cause of infection.
An important thing to remember about is that depending on the type of infection, there is a possibility that it can be spread through airborne means.
This means that when an infected person coughs or sneezes, the liquid droplets from their nose or mouth that have the bacteria or virus can be inhaled by someone else. This can potentially cause an infection.
Usually, a person’s immune system can fight off the infection before it causes any harm. However, if a person’s immune system is compromised, or unable to fight it off, it could become worse and cause pneumonia.
Here are some other possible risk factors for pneumonia:
- Being malnourished or undernourished
- Constant exposure to air pollution such as smoke
- If a parent or a close relative smokes, this can leave a person, especially a child, susceptible to pneumonia
- Asthma, while it doesn’t cause pneumonia, can make a person more susceptible to pneumonia
- Being hospitalized can put a person at risk for pneumonia since they can get infected by other patients
Treatment and Prevention
Pneumonia is typically treated using an antibiotic, since usually it is caused by a bacterial infection. Pneumonia can usually be managed at home, especially for mild cases. However, it is important to take the proper medicine, since if it is left untreated, it can quickly get worse.
Pneumonia usually lasts for a few days for the mild symptoms, but it can cause fatigue or weakness for about a month after acquiring the disease.
For more severe cases, hospitalization is required since severe pneumonia can cause breathing problems. In some cases, people with severe pneumonia need to be taken to the ICU, and placed on a ventilator or a breathing machine in order to assist their breathing.
Here are some important reminders when it comes to preventing pneumonia:
- Make sure to eat healthy food in order to keep your immune system strong.
- If you are a smoker, it would be advisable to quit in order to lower the risk of not just pneumonia, but also other respiratory diseases.
- Avoid exposure to air pollution, smoke, or any fumes that might cause irritation to your lungs.
- Children and the elderly can get a vaccine that would protect them from pneumonia.
- Wash your hands regularly since bacteria or viruses from your hands can get transferred to your mouth and cause infection.
Pneumonia remains a leading cause of death worldwide. Despite this, steps can be taken in order to lower the risk, or prevent it from causing severe damage to the respiratory system.
It is important to know the symptoms, causes, and precautions to take in order to prevent yourself from being infected with pneumonia. Just as important is consulting your doctor if you feel that you might have been infected. This helps start treatment early, and avoid any complications that might arise from the disease.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.