Pneumonia: Symptoms, Causes and Treatment

Pneumonia is the inflammation of the lungs. While usually caused by a bacterium, fungus, or virus, pneumonia sometimes develops after exposure to certain liquids or chemicals. Pneumonia causes breathing difficulties, and usually also involves a cough and fever. Since the type of treatment given for pneumonia depends upon what caused it, blood tests and x-rays are used to determine the best course of action.

Pneumonia is a serious illness affecting the lungs. The term pneumonia actually refers to an inflammation of the lungs in which the lung sacs, or areoles, fill with fluid, to the point that they may turn solid. Pneumonia cases run from mild to severe and in some cases, the illness becomes life threatening. However, most people recover from pneumonia over the course of one to three weeks.

Beyond common sense sanitary precautions such as hand washing, one of the best ways to prevent contracting pneumonia is a yearly flu shot, since the flu may be severe enough to cause pneumonia. Additionally, for people at high risk, vaccination for pneumococcal pneumonia is advisable.

During the course of the illness, people generally run a fever, cough a lot, and have difficulty breathing. Treating symptoms of pneumonia involves determining the type of pneumonia the person has. Things such as drinking plenty of fluids, getting a lot of rest, and using NSAIDs and acetaminophen to control fever are common suggestions for dealing with the illness.

Antibiotics are often prescribed to people with pneumonia. What type of antibiotics is used depends upon the type of pneumonia. Bacterial Pneumonia is caused most often by:
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae:
  • Haemophilus influenzae:
  • Klebsiella pneumonia
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
Pneumonia Symptoms, Causes and Treatment
Different antibiotics work on certain bacteria better than others do. Thus, knowing the bacteria involved determines the drug used.Additionally, some physicians prescribe antibiotics in cases of viral pneumonia as well, as a precautionary measure to fight any secondary infections.

Certain medications, called antivirals, may be prescribed in cases of viral pneumonia, which is usually caused by one of the following viruses:
  • Adenovirus
  • Influenza
  • Parainfluenza
  • Respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV
Viral pneumonia accounts for about one-third of diagnosed pneumonia cases. Diagnosing any type of pneumonia requires a physical exam and history by a health care professional. Diagnosing the illness may also entail chest x-rays, blood tests, CAT scans, nasal swabs, and sputum cultures.

For all types of pneumonia, when the illness becomes severe, hospitalization is a necessity. Hospital treatment typically includes IV fluids, antibiotics, and oxygen therapy. Generally, the very young and the very old are most at risk of developing serious pneumonia.

For most people, bacterial pneumonia generally clears up with antibiotics.  Viral pneumonia may get better with rest and drinking liquids, in addition to prescribed medications such as antivirals. However, in all cases, recovery may take time. Those with bacterial pneumonia often start improving one to three days after starting antibiotics. Recovery from viral pneumonia may take one to three weeks. Since pneumonia is a serious illness, take time to ease gradually back into regular activities.

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. For more information about pneumonia, talk to your doctor or primary care provider.

Page last updated: August 1, 2023


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