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What is Pneumonia?


Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition of the lung affecting primarily the air sacs (alveoli). It is usually caused by infection from bacteria or viruses. The most common symptoms include having a fever, chest pain, a cough, and difficulty breathing. Diagnostic tools can include x-rays and culture of the sputum. Vaccines to prevent certain types of pneumonia are now available. Treatment depends on the underlying cause. Pneumonia presumed to be bacterial is treated with antibiotics. If the pneumonia is severe, the affected person may be hospitalized.


People with infectious pneumonia often have a productive cough, fever accompanied by shaking chills, shortness of breath, sharp or stabbing chest pain during deep breaths, and an increased respiratory rate. In the elderly, confusion may be the most prominent sign. The typical signs and symptoms in children under five are fever, cough, and fast or difficult breathing.

Fever is not a very specific sign of pneumonia, as it occurs in many other common illnesses, may be absent in those with severe diseases, malnutrition or in the elderly. In addition, a cough is frequently absent in babies less than 2 months old. More severe symptoms may include blue-tinged skin, decreased thirst, convulsions, persistent vomiting, extremes of temperature, or a decreased level of consciousness.

Some causes are associated with classic, but non-specific, clinical characteristics. Pneumonia caused by Legionella may occur with abdominal pain, diarrhea, or confusion, while pneumonia caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae is associated with rusty-colored sputum. Pneumonia caused by Klebsiella may have bloody sputum often described as “currant jelly”, although bloody sputum may also occur with acute bronchitis, lung abscesses, and tuberculosis. Mycoplasma pneumonia may occur in association with swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, joint pain, or a middle-ear infection. Viral and bacterial pneumonia have common symptoms, except viral pneumonia presents more commonly with wheezing than does bacterial pneumonia.


Pneumonia typically is caused by bacterial or viral infections, and very rarely by fungi and parasites. Although there are more than a hundred strains of infectious agents that have been identified, only a few are responsible for the majority of the cases. Mixed infections with both viruses and bacteria may occur in up to half of infections in children and about 20 percent of infections in adults.

Conditions and risk factors that predispose people to pneumonia include smoking, alcoholism, immunodeficiency, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, chronic kidney disease, and liver disease. The use of acid-suppressing medications, such as proton-pump inhibitors or H2 blockers, is associated with an increased risk of pneumonia. The elderly are also at an increased risk compared to those younger in age.


Pneumonia affects approximately 500 million people per year around the world, and results in nearly 4 million deaths. Most deaths caused by pneumonia occur in developing countries that don’t take the proper steps for treatment. In the elderly, the terminally ill, and those with other conditions, pneumonia is often the immediate cause of death. The fact that there are more pneumonia-caused deaths in developing countries proves that proper treatment is necessary. If you have any of the symptoms of pneumonia, make it a priority to seek medical attention.