What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is one of the most solvable problems in global health and yet one child dies
from the infection every 20 seconds. On this World Pneumonia Day let us highlight the
severity of the disease and fight off this rival. It is an inflammation (swelling) of the air
sacs (alveoli) in the lungs and its surrounding tissue caused by infection. It often makes
you feel pale and weak, as if you are unwell and cause sudden high fever, coughing and
shortness of breath.
Our airways and lung are constantly exposed to pathogens (microorganisms that cause
infection or disease) in the external environment. Usually, there occurs an unintentional
inhalation of these pathogens from the air we breathe. Our body usually prevents these
pathogens by readily destroying or killing through lung's defense mechanisms. But,
pneumonia develops when these defense mechanisms are compromised or when we inhale
large doses of bacteria, or when a particularly infectious pathogen enter into the body
Infection is developed when bacteria enter the bloodstream and reach lungs.
Economic Burden of Pneumonia
Pneumonia is most common fatal hospital-acquired infection, especially in developing
countries, and infants and children are often affected with it. India, Pakistan, Nigeria,
China and Indonesia contribute to more than 54% of all global pneumonia cases, with
32% of the global burden from India alone.
In India, a survey in 2010 reported that about 36 lakh cases of severe pneumonia and
3.5 lakh of all pneumonia deaths occurred in children younger than 5 years.
Pinning the causes of Pneumonia
Pneumonia is usually caused by bacteria, most commonly by bacteria called pneumococci.
Other types of bacteria such as Haemophilus influenzae or Mycoplasma pneumoniae are
also involved. If you develop pneumonia in the hospital (Nosocomial infection), it is often
caused by an infection of bacteria that is difficult to treat.
If the airways are already infected by other pathogens, for eg. flu viruses, it is easy for the
bacteria to grow there. This can result in bacterial pneumonia. It is less common for pneumonia
to be caused by viruses alone. It can rarely be caused by fungi. That can mainly occur if the
immune system is weak, especially in case of AIDS. Pneumonia can also be caused by factors
besides pathogens, such as radiation, allergic reactions, inhaled poisonous substances or
circulation issues in the lungs.
Knowing the Types of Pneumonia
Based on the types of infecting microorganisms, Pneumonia is categorized as
It is a most common type. It occurs outside of hospitals or other health care facilities.
It may be caused by
(Streptococcus pneumoniae)- This type of pneumonia can occur after having a cold or
flu. It may cause lobar pneumonia (affecting one part pneumonia (af (lobe) of the lung).
(Mycoplasma pneumoniae). It typically produces milder symptoms than other types do.
"Walking" pneumonia is a non-medical term used for describing a mild case of community-
acquired pneumonia, which typically is not severe enough to require bed rest.
Most common in people with weakened immune systems and chronic health
also, in people who have inhaled large doses of the organisms.
Some of the viruses that cause colds and the flu can cause pneumonia. Most common cause
of pneumonia is seen in children younger than 5 years. It is usually mild. But in some cases it
can be dangerous too.
Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia It is a pneumonia infection that occurs
during a hospital stay for another illness. It is usually serious because the infecting bacteria
may be more resistant to antibiotics and also due to weakened immunity of people who get it.
People who are on ventilators are at greater risk of getting infected with this type.
Health care-Acquired Pneumonia
It is a bacterial infection that occurs in health care setting other than the hospital, such as a
nursing home or dialysis center, or who live in long-term health care facilities. Like hospital
acquired pneumonia, health care-acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria that are
more resistant to antibiotics
It occurs when infecting microorganism enters the lungs or when saliva or water droplets
of an infected patient are inhaled (droplet infection). But, one may even become ill due to
, drink or saliva and not clearing from the lungs. Aspiration occurs in people
who have had strokes, or with decreased level of consciousness due to sedating drugs,
alcohol, or other reasons.
which occurs when a blockage of the air passages in the lungs (such as from a tumor)
causes bacteria to accumulate behind the blockage.
High fever and shaking chills
Cough with phlegm
Shortness of breath
Chest pain while breathing or coughing
Confusion (in adults age 65 and older
Signs and Typical Symptoms of pneumonia are:
All symptoms do not
always occur at the same time particularly in children (Newborns and infants) and older
people. Less typical symptoms such as diarrhea, stomach pains or drowsiness and confusion
might be more noticeable.
Risk factors of pneumonia are
Pneumonia may affect anyone, but the two of the age groups at highest risk are
Children till 2 years of age or younger.
People who are 65 years old or older than that.
Other risk factors include
More likely to get pneumonia if one has asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
(COPD) or Heart disease.
Weakened immune system
People who have HIV or AIDS, the ones who have had an organ transplant, who have received
chemotherapy or long-term steroids are at risk.
At higher risk if hospitalized, especially if on ventilator
It damages the body's natural defenses against the bacteria and viruses causing pneumonia.
Even with treatment, some people with pneumonia, especially those in high-risk groups,
may experience complications, that include
Bacteria in the Bloodstream (Bacteremia)
Can spread the infection to other organs, potentially causing organ failure.
Difficulty in Breathing
If the pneumonia is severe or there is a chronic underlying lung disease, one may experience
trouble breathing in enough oxygen. May need hospitalization and use a ventilator till the lung heals.
Fluid Accumulation Around the Lungs (Pleural Effusion)
Pneumonia may cause fluid to build up in the thin space between layers of tissue that line
the lungs and chest cavity (pleura). If the fluid becomes infected, it may need to be drained
through a chest tube or removed with surgery.
An abscess occurs if pus forms in the lung cavity. It is usually treated with antibiotics
surgery or drainage with a long needle or tube placed into the abscess is required to remove the pus.
Book blood and urine test Package
An X-ray of the lungs is usually taken which can reveal where and how much of the lung
tissue is inflamed. CT scan is sometimes needed. Changes in the outer regions of the
lungs can also be viewed using ultrasound.
and coughed up mucus (phlegm) can be tested in a laboratory to find out
exactly which microorganisms caused the inflammation. Blood tests can be done to
measure the level of inflammation or to check the oxygen content of the blood. This
can also be done without the blood, using pulse oximetry, where a clip with a light
sensor is placed onto the fingers to optically measure the oxygen content.
Prevention of pneumonia
Generally, practicing personal hygiene, like regularly washing your hands, is the best
way to prevent respiratory infections. Getting enough sleep, exercising regularly and
eating a healthy diet may also help.
Vaccinations are also recommended for people who have an increased risk of pneumonia
or its complications. For example, children can be vaccinated against the Haemophilus
influenzae bacteria and pneumococci. Flu and pneumococci vaccinations are also suitable
for people over 60 years of age.
Treating Pneumonia - Paving the way to Wellness
Because the infection is usually bacterial, pneumonia is typically treated with antibiotics
which depends on the type of bacteria. If the pneumonia was caused by viruses, other drugs
are needed, like a virostatic against flu viruses. Treatment lasts about 5 to 7 days. The
antibiotic can be taken as a tablet or syrup, depending on the severity of the illness and the
risk of complications. Treatment in a hospital may sometimes be needed. Cough medicines
from the pharmacy, special breathing exercises or physiotherapy are not recommended for
No more Gasping for Breath... It's time to Safeguard ourselves from Pneumonia