Pneumonia: Diagnosis, Pneumonia type, And More

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Pneumonia is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus (purulent material), causing cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills, and difficulty breathing. A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.

Is pneumonia contagious?

The germs that cause pneumonia are contagious. This means they can spread from person to person.

Both viral and bacterial pneumonia can spread to others through inhalation of airborne droplets from a sneeze or cough. You can also get these types of pneumonia by coming into contact with surfaces or objects that are contaminated with pneumonia-causing bacteria or viruses.

You can contract fungal pneumonia from the environment. However, it doesn’t spread from person to person.

Symptoms of pneumonia

The symptoms can be mild to life-threatening. They can include:

  • coughing that may produce phlegm (mucus)
  • fever
  • sweating or chills
  • shortness of breath that happens while doing normal activities or even while resting
  • chest pain that’s worse when you breathe or cough
  • feelings of tiredness or fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • nausea or vomiting
  • headaches

Other symptoms can vary according to your age and general health:

  • Children under 5 years old may have fast breathing or wheezing.
  • Infants may appear to have no symptoms, but sometimes they may vomit, lack energy, or have trouble drinking or eating.
  • Older people may have milder symptoms. They can also exhibit confusion or a lower than normal body temperature.

Causes of pneumonia

There are several types of infectious agents such as:

Bacterial pneumonia

The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Other causes include:

Viral pneumonia

Respiratory viruses are often the cause of pneumonia. Some examples include:

Viral pneumonia is usually milder and can improve in one to three weeks without treatment.

Fungal pneumonia

Fungi from soil or bird droppings can cause pneumonia. They most often cause pneumonia in people with weakened immune systems. Examples of fungi that can cause pneumonia include:

  • Pneumocystis jirovecii
  • Cryptococcus species
  • Histoplasmosis species

Types of pneumonia

It can also be classified according to where or how it was acquired.

Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP)

This type of bacterial pneumonia is acquired during a hospital stay. It can be more serious than other types, as the bacteria involved may be more resistant to antibiotics.

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP)

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) refers to pneumonia that’s acquired outside of a medical or institutional setting.

Ventilator-associated pneumonia (VAP)

When people who are using a ventilator get Such disease, it’s called VAP.

Aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia happens when you inhale bacteria into your lungs from food, drink, or saliva. This type is more likely to occur if you have a swallowing problem or if you’re too sedate from the use of medications, alcohol, or other drugs.

Pneumonia diagnosis

Your doctor will start by taking your medical history. They’ll ask you questions about when your symptoms first appeared and your health in general.

They’ll then give you a physical exam. This will include listening to your lungs with a stethoscope for any abnormal sounds, such as crackling.

Depending on the severity of your symptoms and your risk for complications, your doctor may also order one or more of these tests:

Chest X-ray

An X-ray helps your doctor look for signs of inflammation in your chest. If inflammation is present, the X-ray can also inform your doctor about its location and extent.

Blood culture

This test uses a blood sample to confirm an infection. Culturing can also help identify what may be causing your condition.

Sputum culture

During a sputum culture, a sample of mucus is collected after you’ve coughed deeply. It’s then sent to a lab to be analyzed to identify the cause of the infection.

Pulse oximetry

pulse oximetry measures the amount of oxygen in your blood. A sensor placed on one of your fingers can indicate whether your lungs are moving enough oxygen through your bloodstream.

CT scan

CT scans provide a clearer and more detailed picture of your lungs.

Fluid sample

If your doctor suspects there’s fluid in the pleural space of your chest, they may take a fluid sample using a needle placed between your ribs. This test can help identify the cause of your infection.

Bronchoscopy

bronchoscopy looks into the airways in your lungs. It does this using a camera on the end of a flexible tube that’s gently guided down your throat and into your lungs. Your doctor may do this test if your initial symptoms are severe, or if you’re hospitalized and not responding well to antibiotics.

Pneumonia treatment

Your treatment will depend on the type, how severe it is, and your general health.

Prescription medications

Your doctor may prescribe a medication to help treat your pneumonia. What you’re prescribed will depend on the specific cause it.

Oral antibiotics can treat most cases of bacterial pneumonia. Always take your entire course of antibiotics, even if you begin to feel better. Not doing so can prevent the infection from clearing, and it may be harder to treat in the future.

Antibiotic medications don’t work on viruses. In some cases, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral. However, many cases of viral pneumonia clear on their own with at-home care.

Antifungal medications are used to fight fungal pneumonia. You may have to take this medication for several weeks to clear the infection.

At-home care

Your doctor may also recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medication to relieve your pain and fever, as needed. These may include:

Your doctor may also recommend cough medicine to calm your cough so you can rest. Keep in mind coughing helps remove fluid from your lungs, so you don’t want to eliminate it entirely.

You can help your recovery and prevent a recurrence by getting a lot of rest and drinking plenty of fluids.

Hospitalization

If your symptoms are very severe or you have other health problems, you may need to be hospitalized. At the hospital, doctors can keep track of your heart rate, temperature, and breathing. Hospital treatment may include:

  • intravenous antibiotics injected into a vein
  • respiratory therapy, which involves delivering specific medications directly into the lungs or teaching you to perform breathing exercises to maximize your oxygenation
  • oxygen therapy to maintain oxygen levels in your bloodstream (received through a nasal tube, face mask, or ventilator, depending on severity)

Pneumonia risk factors

Anyone can get the disease, but certain groups do have a higher risk. These groups include:

  • infants from birth to 2 years old
  • people ages 65 years and older
  • people with weakened immune systems because of disease or use of medications, such as steroids or certain cancer drugs
  • people with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, cystic fibrosisdiabetes, or heart failure
  • people who’ve recently had a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu
  • people who’ve been recently or are currently hospitalized, particularly if they were or are on a ventilator
  • people who’ve had a stroke, have problems swallowing, or have a condition that causes immobility
  • people who smoke, use certain types of drugs, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol
  • people who’ve been exposed to lung irritants, such as pollution, fumes, and certain chemicals

Pneumonia prevention

In many cases, it can be prevented.

Vaccination

The first line of defense against such disease is to get vaccinated. There are several vaccines that can help prevent pneumonia.

Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23

These two pneumonia vaccines help protect against pneumonia and meningitis caused by pneumococcal bacteria. Your doctor can tell you which one might be better for you.

Prevnar 13 is effective against 13 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends this vaccine for:

  • children under the age of 2
  • adults ages 65 years and older
  • people between ages 2 and 64 years with chronic conditions that increase their risk for pneumonia

Pneumovax 23 is effective against 23 types of pneumococcal bacteria. The CDC recommends it for:

  • adults ages 65 years and older
  • adults ages 19 to 64 years who smoke
  • people between ages 2 and 64 years with chronic conditions that increase their risk for pneumonia

Flu vaccine

Pneumonia can often be a complication of the flu, so be sure to also get an annual flu shot. The CDC recommends that everyone ages 6 months and older get vaccinated, particularly those who may be at risk for flu complications.

Hib vaccine

This vaccine protects against Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), a type of bacteria that can cause pneumonia and meningitis. The CDC recommends this vaccine for:

  • all children under 5 years old
  • unvaccinated older children or adults who have certain health conditions
  • individuals who’ve gotten a bone marrow transplant

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), pneumonia vaccines won’t prevent all cases of the condition. But if you’re vaccinated, you’re likely to have a milder and shorter illness as well as a lower risk for complications.

Is pneumonia a virus?

Several different types of infectious agents can cause it. Viruses are just one of them. The others include bacteria and fungi.

Some examples of viral infections include:

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