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Pneumonia: Treatment, symptoms, advice and help

About pneumonia

Pneumonia is the term given to an infection of either one or both the lungs due to micro-organisms like bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Our lungs are made up of lobes; the left lung has two lobes while the right lung has three. When pneumonia affects any one of the lobes, it is termed as ‘lobar pneumonia’.

Pneumonia: Incidence, age and sex

Pneumonia is one of the leading respiratory causes of death worldwide. People who are at increased risk of pneumonia are usually elderly individuals, above the age of 65 years or children below the age of 2 years. It seems to occur with same prevalence in both men and women.

Signs and symptoms of pneumonia: Diagnosis

Most individuals experience symptoms resembling common cold like sneezing, sore throat, and cough. They may be followed by high-grade temperature, chills, and cough with sputum. Sometimes, sputum may be blood stained. There may also be shortness of breath in some affected individuals.

Pneumonia may be suspected when the doctor hears coarse breathing or crackling sound while examining the chest with a stethoscope. A chest x-ray confirms the diagnosis. Sputum samples can be examined microscopically to identify the causative organism.

Causes and prevention of pneumonia

Pneumonia occurs as a result of infection of lungs by certain micro-organisms. Some individuals may get pneumonia by breathing in air containing such micro-organisms, while in other cases, pneumonia may occur when micro-organisms normally present in the mouth accidentally get entry into the lungs. Individuals with low immunity are highly susceptible to contract such infections. Individuals who are HIV positive, commonly suffer from pneumonia.

Vaccines offer some immunity and are available to prevent pneumococcal disease. There are two types of vaccines: the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine. The pneumococcal conjugate vaccine is recommended for all children less than 2 years of age and also in children 2-4 years of age who have certain medical conditions. On the other hand, the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine is recommended for adults who are at an increased risk of developing pneumococcal pneumonia like the elderly, individuals with diabetes, chronic heart, lung, or kidney disease, alcoholics, smokers or in individuals who have had their spleen removed. This vaccination should be repeated every five to seven years, whereas the flu vaccine is given annually. Since pneumonia is a contagious respiratory infection, covering of mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing may help prevent the spread of disease.

Pneumonia: Complications

Sometimes, fluid collects in the pleural space around the lung as a result of lung inflammation. This condition is called ‘pleural effusion’. There may also be associated secondary bacterial infection of the lungs.

Bacteraemia (passing of bacteria into the blood stream) is the most dreaded complication of pneumonia, which may result in life-threatening implications.

Pneumonia: Treatment

Antibiotic medications remain the mainstay of treatment of bacterial and fungal pneumonia. Viral pneumonia is self-limiting and usually resolves with time. Anti-pyretics may be taken for high temperature and anti-tussive agents for cough. Other measures that may contribute to effective management of pneumonia include cessation of smoking, adequate rest, drinking plenty of fluids and performing breathing exercises. The prognosis of the disease depends upon the health status of the individual and the severity of infection. In occasional cases, oxygen therapy or even ventilation support may be required.