Pneumonia is an infection of one or both lungs that may be caused by bacteria, a virus or fungus. As a result, the lungs fill with pus or fluid causing difficulty breathing that may be accompanied by fever and chills. It can affect people of all ages but those at a higher risk of developing pneumonia include adults age 65 and older, children age 2 and younger, people with chronic illnesses or compromised immune systems, and smokers. Pneumonia can range in severity from mild to life-threatening.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Symptoms of pneumonia may vary depending on the cause of the illness. They may be similar to symptoms of a cold or the flu, and can include:

  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fingernails and lips that are either blue or gray
  • Sore throat
  • Headache
  • Rash

Pneumonia may also cause a cough that produces mucus, shortness of breath and chest pain. Infants may not show any signs or symptoms of pneumonia.

Diagnosis of Pneumonia

Pneumonia may be diagnosed through a physical examination and a review of symptoms. A chest X-ray is often administered as well as blood tests to confirm the presence of infection. Additional tests may include:

  • A bacterial culture of the mucus
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Pleural fluid culture
  • Bronchoscopy

A CT scan of the chest may also be performed for more detailed images of the lungs.

Treatment of Pneumonia

Treatment of pneumonia depends on the cause of the infection, severity of the illness and the overall health of the patient. Antibiotics are often prescribed to treat bacterial pneumonia. Cases of pneumonia caused by a virus may be treated with antiviral medicine. Additional treatment and methods of symptom relief may include:

  • Rest
  • Antifungal medication
  • Drinking an increased amount of fluids
  • Fever relief medication such as ibuprofen or aspirin
  • Supplemental oxygen

It is important to take all medication as prescribed, so that a relapse of pneumonia does not occur.

Complications of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is often treated successfully with medication; however, in some cases, complications may occur. Complications include bacterial infections that spread to other parts of the body, potentially causing organ failure. Other complications include the following:

  • Lung abscess
  • Fluid accumulation in the lungs
  • Difficulty breathing

In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary to stabilize breathing through a mechanical ventilator or to drain infected fluid through a chest tube, or through surgery.

Prevention of Pneumonia

While not all cases of pneumonia can be prevented, the following may help to prevent pneumonia from developing:

  • Receiving an annual flu shot
  • Washing hands frequently
  • Receiving a pneumonia vaccination

Getting enough rest, following a healthy diet, and exercising can also help keep the immune system strong. Avoiding smoking is extremely important as smoking can damage the lung's natural defenses against respiratory infections.

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