Pneumonia: A brief overview

Pneumonia is an infection that can affect one or both lungs. The most common causes of pneumonia are bacterial or viral infections. Depending on the factors triggering this disease, pneumonia may or may not be contagious. While bacterial and viral pneumonia can spread from one person to another, if breathing in toxic fumes is the primary cause of pneumonia, it is not contagious. A bad lifestyle that involves drinking too much alcohol and smoking cigarettes can also increase your risk of suffering from this condition.

Pneumonia symptoms can develop gradually or have a sudden onset. The most common symptoms of this disease include:

• High fever
• Phlegm that is yellow or greenish in color
• Bloody mucus
• Chills
• Breathlessness
• Fatigue
• Reduced appetite
• Sharp pains in the chest especially when coughing or deep breathing
• Excessive sweating
• Fast heartbeat
• A blue color on the nails and lips

Infants suffering from pneumonia may appear weak and listless, while elderly patients may show symptoms of mental changes such as confusion.

If not addressed in time, pneumonia can spread to the bloodstream and cause sepsis, which further keeps oxygen from being transported to the other organs of the body and reduces blood pressure. Pneumonia can also lead to the accumulation of fluid between the chest wall and lung tissue. This is known as a pleural effusion.

The first step towards diagnosing pneumonia is a thorough physical examination and understanding of the patient’s medical history. To treat this disease, the doctor must determine the cause of pneumonia. For this, you may need to undergo tests such as a chest X-Ray or CT scan, pulse oximetry, bronchoscopy and blood tests. Mild attacks of pneumonia do not usually last longer than two to three weeks, while if it attacks a person with a weakened immune system, recovery can take as long as eight weeks.

Most cases of pneumonia can be treated with oral antibiotics. For this, the patient may or may not need hospitalization. Hospitalization is usually suggested only in cases where intravenous antibiotics are required.

It is not possible to prevent all types of pneumonia, but one can get vaccinated against bacterial pneumonia caused by streptococcus pneumonia. These vaccinations may not completely protect you against pneumonia but can prevent complications if you do begin to show symptoms of the disease. You can also reduce your risk of suffering from this disease by avoiding contact with people who are suffering from viral infections or flu and by quitting nicotine. Washing your hands after you come indoors and before eating can also help reduce your risk of pneumonia.