Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatment

Pneumonia symptoms can appear gradually or happen quickly, specially when the immune system is weakened. Most cases of pneumonia happen due to a cold that does not go by or that gets worse over time, and is normally a consequence of a secondary infection by a virus, fungus or bacteria.

Symptoms may vary from one person to the other but normally include:

  1. Difficulty breathing;
  2. Rapid breathing;
  3. Fever over 100.4º F (38ºC);
  4. Dry cough;
  5. Cough with green phlegm or with blood;
  6. Chest pain;
  7. Night sweating;
  8. Fatigue and muscle aches;
  9. Constant headache.

Along with the above symptoms, infants with pneumonia may also get agitated, present vomiting, experience loss of appetite or cry excessively. Elderly people may develop other symptoms like confusion and memory loss linked to fever, difficulty breathing, and a cough.

X ray of a lung with pneumonia
X ray of a lung with pneumonia

Possible causes

Pneumonia normally happens due to:

  • Virus or bacteria infections in the nose or throat that spread to the lungs;
  • Aspiration of an object or food into the lungs, which can happen when a child places a bean or a small toy up the nose, and it gets sucked into the lungs;
  • Aspiration of vomit, causing inflammation in the pulmonary tissues;
  • Use of breathing equipment (for instance, CPAP) that is dirty, which increases the risk of a virus or bacteria getting into the lungs.

Pneumonia is more common in children under the age of five, and elderly people over 70, due to low immunity. However, any person can get pneumonia, especially if they have some type of respiratory problem or an immune disease such as cancer or HIV.

Pneumonia diagnosis

Pneumonia diagnosis is usually done by a pneumonologist or a G.P. through assessment of symptoms and a lung x-ray. In addition, other tests may be requested, such as conventional blood tests (hemogram), a sputum culture or throat swab.

Treatment options 

In mild cases, pneumonia can be treated at home, through the use of oral medication. Since most cases are usually caused by a bacterial infection, medication tend to include the use of antibiotics, but it can also be done with antifungals, if it is being caused by a fungus.

In children under the age of one or in elderly people over seventy that have other health problems, such as diabetes, the doctor may prefer for the person to be hospitalized in order to get adequate treatment. In serious cases, where the person cannot breathe on their own, they may need to be hospitalized in the intensive care unit. 

Treatment may last up to 21 days, and during this time it's recommended to follow some precautions such as: 

  • Drinking a lot of water; 
  • Covering your mouth to cough and washing your hands regularly;
  • Resting and avoiding doing activities that require effort;
  • Avoiding public indoor locations; 
  • Doing regular nebulization with a saline solution or medication, when prescribed; 
  • Avoiding the use of cough medication without doctor supervision.

Doing these things will avoid transmission to other people and will keep infection under control, ensuring a good recovery.

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References

  • Gaiolla, P. S. A.; Coelho, L. S.; Cavalcante, R. S.. Recomendações para o atendimento aos pacientes com infecção do trato respiratório inferior: pneumonia adquirida na comunidade, pneumonia associada aos cuidados de saúde, pneumonia hospitalar, exacerbação de doença pulmonar obstrutiva crônica, exacerbação d. Hospital das Clínicas da Faculdade de Medicina de Botucatu. Botucatu – SP: 2015. Disponível em: .
  • CORRÊA, Ricardo A. et al. Recomendações para o manejo da pneumonia adquirida na comunidade 2018. Jornal Brasileiro de Pneumologia. Vol 44. 5 ed; 405-424, 2018
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