Overview – What is it?
Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi which causes inflammation of the air sacs. It is transmitted through the air and blood. Some of the symptoms for this condition are chest pain, coughing and shortness of breath. This disease can be diagnosed through blood tests, physical exam and sputum test, among other tests. The treatment of pneumonia includes taking antibiotics and pain relievers. You can prevent yourself from getting pneumonia by getting vaccinated, practising good hygiene and keeping your immune system strong, among other measures.
Causes – What causes it?
Pneumonia is mainly caused by bacteria and viruses that are present in the air. It is transmitted through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It can also be caused by fungi especially in people with chronic health problems.
The risk factors for this condition include:
- Children below 2 years and older adults from 65 years and above are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia
- Having a chronic condition such as asthma and heart disease also increases the risk of getting pneumonia
- Having a suppressed immune system due to conditions such as HIV/AIDs or if you have gone through organ transplant
- Smoking also increases the risk of pneumonia as it damages the body’s natural defences against viruses and bacteria that cause pneumonia
Symptoms – What do you feel?
Depending on the cause of the pneumonia, your age and your overall health, the symptoms may be mild or severe. Mild symptoms of this condition may be similar to those of cold and flu, however, they last longer. Some symptoms of pneumonia are:
- Pain in the chest when coughing and breathing
- Coughing which produces phlegm
- Shortness of breath
- Confusion or changes in mental awareness
- Sweating and shivering
- Nausea and vomiting
- Rapid heartbeat
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Physical exam: This is done in the initial consultation during which the doctor also finds out your symptoms and your medical history. This exam is used to check for any symptoms such as any abnormal bubbling in the lungs listened for by the doctor using a stethoscope.
- Blood tests: They are used to confirm whether you have infection and if so, to determine which organism is causing it.
- Pulse oximetry: This is used to measure oxygen levels in your blood. (if you have pneumonia, it might prevent the lungs from moving enough oxygen into the bloodstream).
- Chest x-ray: This is done to determine whether you have pneumonia and which part of the lungs it has affected.
- Sputum test: Used to determine the cause of infection by analysing a sample of fluid from the lungs taken after a deep cough.
- Bronchoscopy: It is used to show the inside of the airways by inserting a lighted tube into the trachea and major airways.
Additional tests include:
- Pleural fluid culture which involves taking a sample of fluid from the lungs, using a needle into the pleural area, and analysing it to determine what type of infection you have.
- CT (computerised tomography) scan is used to give detailed images of the lungs, especially in cases where the pneumonia is taking a lot of time to clear.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of pneumonia focuses on ending the infection and preventing any complications that may arise from it. The treatment options include:
- Using antibiotics: They are used to treat infections depending on the type of bacteria causing the disease.
- Taking pain medication to treat fever and discomfort caused by the pneumonia.
- Cough medicine to calm the cough but not end it completely as coughing helps loosen and move fluid from the lungs.
- Hospitalization which can be done for older people or children who are going through severe symptoms.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
Pneumonia infection can be prevented by:
- Getting vaccinated
- Practising good hygiene such as washing your hands regularly
- Keeping your immunity strong by:
- Eating a healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Not smoking
- Covering your mouth with a handkerchief or tissue when coughing or sneezing
- Throwing away used tissues immediately