Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by an infection.

Pneumonia is a serious medical condition and potentially a life-threatening illness.

Pneumonia Causes

Pneumonia can result from a variety of causes such as infection (i.e. bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites), or chemical and physical injury. Often, pneumonia follows an upper respiratory tract infection such as a cold or influenza (flu).

Outbreaks of new germs like COVID-19, H5N1 influenza (avian flu) virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus, and swine flu (type A influenza) virus have caused serious, sometimes fatal pneumonia, even in otherwise healthy people.

In pneumonia, the alveoli (air-filled sacs in the lungs responsible for absorbing oxygen) are filled with pus and other fluids making it difficult for oxygen to reach the blood. With little oxygen in the blood, your body cells cannot function properly. When the lungs become congested with fluids, breathing becomes difficult.

How Pneumonia Can Affect the Lungs

• Lobar pneumonia: if the lung inflammation or infection affects a section (lobe) of the lung
• Bronchopneumonia: if the inflammation spreads from the bronchi to other parts of the lung

People at High Risk for Pneumonia

Certain individuals are at high risk of developing severe pneumonia because of a weaker immune system. Adults aged 65 or older, very young children, people with chronic medical conditions and those with HIV/AIDS should be more vigilant and take extra precautionary measures when there is an outbreak of infectious respiratory diseases like influenza.

Pneumonia Symptoms 

Signs of pneumonia vary greatly depending on the cause and the sufferer’s underlying condition. Typical symptoms associated with pneumonia include:
• Cough
• Chest pain
• Fever
• Breathing difficulty

A person with bacterial pneumonia usually has a sudden onset of symptoms such as high-grade fever, chills, shortness of breath, chest pain and a cough with thick, greenish or yellowish phlegm.

For viral pneumonia, the symptoms usually start with a dry cough, fever, headache, body and muscle pains. Subsequently, the person may become breathless and the cough produces whitish or clear phlegm.

Children suffering from pneumonia may experience a sudden onset of fever, coughing, laboured and rapid breathing (more than 45 breaths a minute), wheezing, bluish skin, lips or fingertips.

Pneumonia Treatment 

Medication to treat pneumonia depends on the germs (bacteria/virus) that cause the infection. If pneumonia is due to bacteria, antibiotics are usually given. If the pneumonia is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not be effective.

A few viral pneumonias may be treated with antiviral medication. Besides antibiotics and antiviral medication, supportive treatment is also given, which includes medication to relieve coughing, fever, chest pains and body aches.

For mild cases of viral pneumonia, good bed rest, a balanced diet and plenty of fluids may be all that is necessary. For severe cases of pneumonia, hospitalisation may be needed. The patient may require intravenous antibiotics and oxygen.

Pneumonia Prevention 

Pneumonia is usually triggered when a patient's immune system is weakened e.g. a simple viral upper respiratory tract infection or a case of influenza. The following tips can help keep you healthy:

• Get vaccinated. People over the age of 65, people whose spleen has been damaged or removed, or those suffering from chronic lung disease, heart disease, sickle cell anaemia, AIDS and other immune deficiency diseases should be vaccinated for pneumococcal pneumonia. Getting a flu vaccination is also recommended for this group of people as pneumonia is a common complication of flu.

• Wash hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water. Your hands are the part of your body most in contact with germs that can cause pneumonia. These germs enter your body when you touch your eyes, mouth and nose.

• Lead a healthy lifestyle. Eating healthily with a diet rich in fruit and vegetables, and engaging in regular physical activity can help keep your immune system strong and healthy.

• Quit smoking. Smoking damages your lungs and lowers your resistance to fight respiratory infections. Also, smokers who develop pneumonia get more complications than non-smokers.

What to Do If You Have Signs of Pneumonia

If you have symptoms of pneumonia:
• See your family doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia are important.
• Take the full course of any antibiotic medication that your doctor prescribes. This will help prevent a relapse.
• Rest at home until you are well.
• Protect others from the infection.
• Sneeze or cough into a tissue.
• Wear a surgical mask when you have flu or a common cold.

Use of MediSave 

MediSave, up to $500/$700 per year per account, can be used for pneumococcal vaccinations for persons with a higher risk of developing influenza-related (flu) complications and/or severe pneumococcal disease.

Click here for more information on subsidies available, other vaccine-preventable diseases and frequently asked questions.

Read these next: 


 Catalog-Item Reuse