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Alternative namesPneumonitis; Bronchopneumonia; Community-acquired pneumonia
Pneumonia is an inflammation of the lungs caused by an infection. Many different organisms can cause it, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
Pneumonia is a common illness that affects millions of people each year in the United States.
Pneumonia can range from mild to severe, even fatal. The severity depends on the type of organism causing pneumonia as well as your age and underlying health.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Bacterial pneumonias tend to be the most serious and, in adults, the most common cause, especially Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus).
Respiratory viruses are the most common causes of pneumonia in young children, peaking between the ages of 2 and 3. By school age, the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae becomes more common.
In some people, particularly the elderly and those who are debilitated, bacterial pneumonia may follow influenza or even a common cold.
Many people contract pneumonia while staying in a hospital for other conditions. This tends to be more serious because the patient's immune system is often impaired due to the condition that initially required treatment. In addition, there is a greater possibility of infection with bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics.
SymptomsThe main symptoms of pneumonia are:
Additional symptoms include:
Signs and testsIf you have pneumonia, you may be working hard to breathe, or may be breathing fast. Crackles are heard when listening to your chest with a stethoscope. Other abnormal breathing sounds may also be heard through the stethoscope or via percussion (tapping on your chest wall).
The following tests may show signs of pneumonia:
If the cause is bacterial, the goal is to cure the infection with antibiotics. If the cause is viral, antibiotics will NOT be effective. In some cases it is difficult to distinguish between viral and bacterial pneumonia, so antibiotics may be prescribed.
Many people can be treated at home with antibiotics. If you have an underlying chronic disease, severe symptoms, or low oxygen levels, you will likely require hospitalization for intravenous antibiotics and oxygen therapy. Infants and the elderly are more commonly admitted for treatment of pneumonia.
You can take these steps at home:
When in the hospital, respiratory treatments to remove secretions may be necessary. Occasionally, steroid medications may be used to reduce wheezing if there is an underlying lung disease.
Expectations (prognosis)With treatment, most patients will improve within two weeks. Elderly or debilitated patients who fail to respond to treatment may die from respiratory failure.
Empyemae or lung abcesses are infrequent, but serious, complications of pneumonia. They occur when pockets of pus form around or inside the lung. These may sometimes require surgical drainage.
Calling your health care provider
Call your doctor if:
Infants with pneumonia may not have a cough. Call your doctor if your infant makes grunting noises or the area below the rib cage is retracting while breathing.
Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people with diabetes, asthma, emphysema, HIV, cancer, or other chronic conditions:
Taking deep breaths may help prevent pneumonia if you are in the hospital -- for example, while recovering from surgery. Often, a breathing device will be given to you to assist in deep breathing.
If you have cancer or HIV, you should talk to your doctor about additional ways to prevent pneumonia.
Update Date: 11/10/2003Jacqueline A. Hart, M.D., Department of Internal Medicine, Newton-Wellesley Hospital, Boston, Ma., and Senior Medical Editor, A.D.A.M., Inc. and Steven Angelo, M.D., Assistant Professor of Medicine, Yale School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
Last updated: Tue, 06 Jan 2009 00:20:03 GMT