Pneumonia is an inflammatory pulmonary infection that causes the small air sacs (alveoli) of one or both lungs to fill with fluid or pus. Because it has several potential causes and can trigger a wide range of symptoms, it’s important to know how to recognize the possible signs of this common — and potentially serious — illness.
Here at Fivestar Pulmonary Associates in Allen and McKinney, Texas, our seasoned team of pulmonologists can tell you whether your respiratory symptoms are a product of pneumonia or something else, so you can get the treatment you need to feel better.
Read on as Dr. Anthony Nebor, Dr. Asif Najmuddin, and Dr. Deepthi Gandhiraj discuss the various ways pneumonia can develop, explore the warning signs and symptoms, and explain why proper evaluation and care are so important.
Pneumonia is tissue inflammation and fluid buildup in one or both lungs caused by a bacterial, viral, or fungal infection. It’s a common illness that produces mild to severe symptoms in millions of people of all ages across the United States every year.
Pneumonia is classified in two ways: by the pathogen that caused it and how it was acquired. Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) occurs outside of a health care setting; hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) develops while you’re in a hospital or health care facility for another illness or procedure. HAP is often more serious than CAP, as it’s more likely to be caused by hard-to-treat, antibiotic-resistant bacteria.
Bacteria are the most frequent cause of pneumonia in adults, while viruses are the most common cause of pneumonia in school-age children. Pathogens that can lead to pneumonia include:
Viral pneumonia is usually considered a complication of a lingering viral infection — often the flu, RSV, or COVID-19. Bacterial pneumonia can occur on its own, or it can develop on the heels of (but separate from) a viral infection. Fungal pneumonia is more likely to affect people with compromised immune systems.
It can be hard to differentiate between pneumonia and a respiratory infection like a bad cold, RSV, COVID-19, or the flu. To add to the confusion, pneumonia symptoms can vary in nature and severity depending on the underlying cause, as well as the age and general health of the affected person. Typical signs of pneumonia may include:
Bacterial pneumonia may develop gradually or suddenly and tends to be more severe, while viral pneumonia typically develops over several days and is often milder.
Older adults and people with compromised immune systems are more likely to have fewer or milder symptoms, and may even have a lower-than-normal temperature. Pneumonia can also cause older adults to develop sudden changes in mental awareness that make them appear confused.
Some babies with pneumonia don’t show signs of illness apart from seeming more restless or fussier than normal, while others may have tell-tale symptoms like fever, cough, or noisy breathing. Older children with pneumonia are more likely to experience nausea and vomiting.
If you suspect you have pneumonia, expert evaluation and an accurate diagnosis are key for getting the individualized treatment you need to get better and protect your health. Without proper care, a severe or lingering lung infection can lead to serious complications.
Although viral pneumonia is often mild and typically goes away on its own within a few weeks, bacterial pneumonia tends to be more severe and requires a course of antibiotics to clear the underlying cause of infection in your lungs. Likewise, fungal pneumonia requires treatment with antifungal medication.
Other individualized treatment recommendations — such as taking an OTC pain reliever/fever reducer, using prescription breathing treatments, undergoing oxygen therapy, or drinking plenty of fluids — can help you feel better and help manage your specific pneumonia symptoms more effectively.
If you think you may have pneumonia, don’t second-guess yourself — schedule an evaluation at your nearest Fivestar Pulmonary Associates office today by calling or requesting an appointment online.