What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or chemical irritants. It is a serious infection or inflammation in which the air sacs fill with pus and other liquid.

  • Lobar pneumonia affects one or more sections (lobes) of the lungs.
  • Bronchial pneumonia (or bronchopneumonia) affects patches throughout both lungs.

What are the different types of pneumonia?

The main types of pneumonia are:

  • Bacterial pneumonia is caused by various bacteria. The Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common bacterium that causes bacterial pneumonia.

    It usually occurs when the body is weakened in some way, such as illness, malnutrition, old age, or impaired immunity, and the bacteria are able to work their way into the lungs. Bacterial pneumonia can affect all ages, but those at greater risk include the following:
    • persons who abuse alcohol
    • persons who are debilitated
    • post-operative patients
    • persons with respiratory diseases or viral infections
    • persons who have weakened immune systems

    The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:

    • shaking, chills
    • chattering teeth
    • severe chest pain
    • high temperature
    • heavy perspiring
    • rapid pulse
    • rapid breathing
    • bluish color to lips and nailbeds
    • confused mental state or delirium
    • cough that produces rust-colored or greenish mucus
  • Viral pneumonia is caused by various viruses, and is the cause of half of all cases of pneumonia.

    Early symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia, which may be followed by increasing breathlessness and a worsening of the cough.

    Viral pneumonias may make a person susceptible to bacterial pneumonia.

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia has somewhat different symptoms and physical signs. It is caused by mycoplasmas, the smallest free-living agents of disease in humankind, which have the characteristics of both bacteria or viruses, but which are not classified as either. They generally cause a mild, widespread pneumonia that affects all age groups.

    Symptoms include a severe cough that may produce some mucus.
  • Other less common pneumonias may be caused by the inhaling of food, liquid, gases or dust, or by fungi.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Diagnosis is usually made based on the season and the extent of the illness. Based on these factors, your physician may diagnose simply on a thorough history and physical examination, but may include the following tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • chest x ray - a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • blood tests - to analyze the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • sputum culture - a diagnostic test performed on the material that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. A sputum culture is often performed to determine if an infection is present.
  • pulse oximetry - an oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To obtain this measurement, a small sensor (such as a Band-Aid) is taped onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the red light does not get hot.

Treatment for pneumonia:

Specific treatment will be determined by your physician based on:

  • your age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the disease
  • your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the disease
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment may include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotics may also speed recovery from mycoplasma pneumonia and some special cases. There is no clearly effective treatment for viral pneumonia, which usually heals on its own.

Other treatment may include appropriate diet, oxygen therapy, pain medication, and medication for cough.