Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs usually caused by a bacteria or viral infection.

Pneumonia is a serious medical condition and may cause life-threatening illnesses even in otherwise healthy people.

Pneumonia Causes

Pneumonia infection can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, or chemical and physical injury. It is a lung inflammation that most often follows bacterial or viral respiratory infections. Frequent causes include the common cold (e.g. rhinovirus infection), Influenza (flu), COVID-19, pneumococcal disease or respiratory syncytial viral (RSV) infection.

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 under the age of 5, 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 prescribed. If the pneumonia is caused by a virus, antibiotics will not be effective as antibiotics do not work on viruses.

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. But severe cases of pneumonia may require hospitalisation, intravenous antibiotics or anti-viral medications and oxygen or other supportive therapies. Severe cases of pneumonia can be life threatening.

Preventing Pneumonia 

Get vaccinated. Many illnesses that can cause pneumonia are preventable with vaccination. Young children, people 65 years old and above and anyone with chronic medical conditions or on long-term medications should speak to their doctor to ensure all their vaccinations are up-to-date. Several vaccines can prevent the most common causes of pneumonia in young children, older adults and high-risk groups. Stay up to date with:
    • Influenza vaccination ("flu shot")- annually

    • Pneumococcal vaccination

    • COVID-19 vaccination

Wash hands thoroughly and regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. 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. When soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

• 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. Stay hydrated by drinking an adequate amount of plain water daily.

• Mask up! If you don't feel well, wear a mask if you need to leave your home to visit a doctor. This will help to protect others from your germs and protect you from catching other infections while your immune system is working hard.

• 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 by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds and wearing a surgical mask when you feel unwell

• Sneeze or cough into a tissue.

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 complications and/or severe pneumococcal disease.

Eligible Singaporeans such as seniors aged 65 years old and above are eligible for pneumococcal vaccination subsidies at CHAS GP clinics and polyclinics. Click here for more information on subsidies available, other vaccine-preventable diseases and frequently asked questions.

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