What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. The infection may be caused by fungi, bacteria, or viruses. Pneumonia causes inflammation in your lung’s air sacs, also referred to as alveoli. The alveoli fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult to breathe. Symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to life threatening. In fact, pneumonia causes more deaths worldwide than any other illness. The severity of pneumonia usually depends on the cause of the inflammation or by the type of organism causing the infection, a person’s age, and their general health.
What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?
The general symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop quickly and may include:
Some symptoms may indicate a medical emergency. These symptoms include:
skin with bluish tone (from lack of oxygen)
blood in sputum (coughed-up mucus)
high fever (103 °F or higher)
How Is Pneumonia Diagnosed?
Pneumonia can be easily overlooked as the cause of an illness because it often resembles a cold or the flu. However, it usually lasts longer and symptoms seem more severe than these other conditions.
Detailed Patient History:
To determine whether or not a patient has pneumonia, doctors generally inquire about a patient’s signs and symptoms. Questions they may include:
What are your symptoms and when did they begin?
What were your recent travels and activities?
What was your recent exposure to animals?
What was your recent exposure to individuals who are sick?
What are your past and current medical issues?
What medications are you currently taking?
What is your smoking history?
Have you recently had any vaccinations or illnesses?
Crackling and bubbling sounds in the chest during inhalation are usually indicators of pneumonia. Wheezing may also be present. Additionally, your doctor may have trouble hearing normal breathing sounds in different areas of the chest.
Chest X-rays can be used to determine if infection is present in your lungs. However, chest X-rays won’t show your type of pneumonia. Blood tests can provide a better picture of the type of pneumonia. Also, blood tests are necessary to see if the infection is in your bloodstream.
Additional tests that may be required include:
Chest computed tomography (CT scan): A CT scan is similar to an X-ray, but the pictures provided by this method are highly detailed. This painless test provides a clear and precise picture of the chest and lungs.
Sputum test: This test will examine the sputum (the mucus you cough up) to determine what type of pneumonia is present.
Pleural fluid test: If there is fluid apparent in the pleural space (the space between the tissue that covers the outside of your lungs and the inside of your chest cavity), a fluid sample can be taken to help determine if the pneumonia is bacterial or viral.
Pulse oximetry: This test measures the level of oxygen blood saturation by attaching a small sensor to your finger. Pneumonia can prevent normal oxygenation of blood.
Bronchoscopy: When antibiotics fail, this method is used to view the airways inside the lungs to determine if blocked airways are contributing to the pneumonia.
How Is Pneumonia Treated?
The type of treatment prescribed for pneumonia primarily depends on what type of pneumonia is present and its severity. In many cases, pneumonia can be treated at home.
The typical treatment plan for pneumonia includes taking all prescribed medications and participating in follow-up care. A chest x-ray may be ordered to ensure your pneumonia has been successfully treated.
Treating Bacterial Pneumonia
Antibiotics are used to treat this type of pneumonia. Antibiotics should be taken as directed. If antibiotics are ceased before treatment is complete, the pneumonia may return. Most people will improve after one to three days of treatment.
Treating Viral Pneumonia
Antibiotics are useless if a virus is the cause of pneumonia. However, antiviral drugs can help treat the condition. Symptoms usually improve within one to three weeks.
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