Pneumonia – what you need to know

Pneumonia is a lot more common than most people realise Full Instagram. It’s a serious illness, which can be life-threatening if the correct treatment isn’t given timeously.

What is pneumonia?

  • pneumonia is an infection of either one, or both, lungs
  • when a person has pneumonia, the alveoli of the lungs become inflamed
  • alveoli are tiny air sacs within the lungs, that allow for the movement of oxygen and carbon dioxide between the lungs and the bloodstream

What are the causes for pneumonia?

  • Bacteria: the most common causes are: Streptococcus pneumonia, Haemophilus influensae, Moraxella catarrhalis, TB
  • Viruses: the most common causes are: influenza A and B, swine flu, RSV, SARS virus, rhinovirus, measles virus, varicella-zoster (chicken pox) virus, herpes simplex virus
  • Fungi: more common in people with weakened immune systems and people who have chronic illnesses
  • Bacteria-like organisms: for example, Mycoplasma pneumoniae (the so-called “atypical pneumonia”)
  • Chemical or aspiration pneumonia: when either chemicals, food, drink, vomit or saliva enters the lungs. This is more commonly seen in patients who have an impaired gag reflex

Does it make a difference how, or where, one gets pneumonia?

Community-acquired pneumonia

  • this refers to pneumonia that people get outside of a hospital, or a health care facility (such as nursing home, rehabilitation or frail care centre)
  • it is usually easier to treat

Hospital-acquired pneumonia

  • this refers to pneumonia that a patient gets whilst being in hospital
  • you can also get this type of pneumonia in an ICU or in association to being on a ventilator
  • this type of pneumonia can be more resistant to anti-biotics

Who is at risk of getting pneumonia?

  • children under the age of 2 years, and adults older than 65 years of age
  • smokers
  • people who are immune-suppressed (HIV+, cancer patients, patients taking long-term steroids)
  • people with chronic diseases (diabetes, heart disease, asthma, COPD, cirrhosis, cystic fibrosis, bronchiectasis)
  • being hospitalised, recent surgery or trauma
  • having had a recent viral respiratory infection (increase the risk of a secondary bacterial infection)
  • neurological impairment (Parkinson’s disease, stroke, dementia, motor-neuron disease, M.S.)
  • living in a nursing home or frail-care facility, or a hostel
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How is pneumonia treated?

Treatment of pneumonia depends on various factors:

  • the age of the patient
  • the type of pneumonia (community vs. hospital-acquired)
  • the underlying cause of the pneumonia
  • how seriously ill the patient is clinically
  • whether the patient has other chronic illnesses, or is immune-suppressed

Treatment can include:

  • Rest and adequate fluid intake
  • Anti-biotics or anti-viral medication, if needed
  • Medication to lower a fever/temperature (paracetamol, anti-inflammatories)
  • Cough medication (a cough suppressant should only be given if a doctor specifically prescribes one)
  • Hospitalisation (if a patient is seriously ill, intravenous fluids and anti-biotics may be necessary,  oxygen, nebulisation, chest physiotherapy, special breathing exercises, or ICU admission for possible ventilation)

Can pneumonia be prevented, and if so, how?

Not all cases of pneumonia can be prevented, but there are things one can do to lower the risk of acquiring this potentially serious illness:

  • Covering one’s mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing prevents the spread of pneumonia
  • By observing good hand hygiene and washing one’s hands regularly and thoroughly
  • By not smoking
  • By staying away from people who are already ill with respiratory tract infections
  • People who are already ill with pneumonia or a respiratory tract infection should stay off work or school to recover and prevent spreading the infection to others (via coughing and sneezing )
  • By being vaccinated (annual flu virus vaccine, pneumococcal vaccine for age 65+ and patients with chronic illnesses, Measles and Chicken pox vaccine in certain cases)
  • By eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy body weight
  • HIV+ patients should discuss additional ways that they can prevent certain types of pneumonia and other infections, with their doctor

If you’re worried about any chesty symptoms, chat to one of our doctors. They’d be happy to help, and are available 24/7, 365 days a year.