What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a lung infection that is usually caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria. It is mainly characterized by inflammation of the lung’s alveoli (sacs in the lungs that absorb oxygen). Surveys indicate an estimated 55% of admitted patients under treatment for pneumonia will have very poor prognosis or will die. In the United States alone, it is the 6th leading cause of death.
Organisms that cause Pneumonia may be bacterial or viral in origin. People catch pneumonia by inhaling small droplets that contain the organism that causes this condition. These droplets are spread by people who are already infected with Pneumonia through coughing or sneezing. In some cases, pneumonia may be caused by viruses or bacteria that are already present in the throat, nose or mouth that accidentally enter the lung. Commonly during sleep, people tend to aspirate secretions from the nose, throat or mouth, and the body’s automatic response is expelling these secretions out. A person’s immune system, if healthy, will inhibit the aspirated organism to cause pneumonia. But for persons with weak defense systems, they have a high risk to develop Pneumonia. High-risk individuals are those with swallowing problems, smokers, alcoholics, drug users, malnourished, and people with other medical conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or emphysema.
Initial symptoms of pneumonia are cold and flu-like symptoms (cough, sneezing, sore throat), followed with high fever, shivering, and cough with bloody or discolored sputum. Symptoms and severity greatly vary depending on the patient’s health status as well as the underlying conditions.
Pneumonia is diagnosed through physical examination including auscultation (listening to breath sounds), chest x-ray and sputum sampling. Blood tests that measure white blood count (WBC) and bronchoscopy may also be performed in certain cases.
Treatment for pneumonia will base on the type of pneumonia and the symptoms. Antibiotics are given for bacterial pneumonia, while antifungal medications are prescribed for fungal pneumonias. For viral pneumonia, rest and high fluid intake are recommended. Vaccines for prevention of pneumonia are also available in the market.