Pneumonia can be viral or bacterial and there are many different types. Whatever the type of pneumonia you have, this will be an infection in one or both lungs that leads to inflammation of the air sacs of the lungs. Pneumonia can go almost unnoticed in some people (for example, if you have ‘walking’ pneumonia) and others may suffer a full range of symptoms, from coughing to fever and chills. This is all you need to know about pneumonia.
What is pneumonia?
It’s an infection that is triggered when germs enter the lungs. When this happens the body’s immune system is triggered to fight the infection and it does this by inflaming the lung’s air sacs (alveoli). When these air sacs start to fill up with liquid and pus as part of the process of fighting the infection, the symptoms of pneumonia start to appear.
How do you get pneumonia?
Whether you have viral or bacterial pneumonia this can be spread from person to person via inhaling airborne droplets that have been coughed or sneezed by another person. Pneumonia can also be contracted via a surface that has been infected with a pneumonia-causing bacteria or virus. The only type of pneumonia that isn’t contagious is fungal pneumonia.
What can you expect from pneumonia?
This will depend on the type of pneumonia and its severity. Walking pneumonia, for example, tends to be very mild and symptoms can include a dry cough, shortness of breath and chest pain. It will feel more like a mild respiratory infection but, despite its mildness, can actually take longer to recover from. Other types of pneumonia can also range from mild to life threatening, which means there is a very wide range of symptoms to look out for. These can include sweating, chills, fatigue, feeling tired, headaches, fever, coughing and nausea.
Who is especially at risk with pneumonia?
We can all get pneumonia as most types of pneumonia are contagious. However, there are some groups of people who have a higher risk of catching it - and having complications. These include the elderly, infants under the age of 2, people who have a weakened immune system due to something like HIV or pregnancy, those who have chronic medical conditions including heart failure, diabetes and sickle cell disease as well as people who have had a brain disorder that might affect the body’s ability to swallow or cough.
How is pneumonia treated?
You’ll get a physical exam, including listening to your lungs for anything abnormal such as crackling. A chest x-ray might be used to identify signs of inflammation in the chest and blood cultures can be done to confirm an infection. There are a range of other tests that your doctor might use, including a bronchoscopy and taking a fluid sample. Treatment will depend on the severity of the pneumonia but can range from over the counter medication to antibiotics and hospitalisation.
Pneumonia is generally treatable but if you’re in an at-risk group you should seek medical help quickly.
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