Before the invention of antibiotics in the 1930s, pneumonia was a leading cause of death.
There are four basic types: community-acquired pneumonia, the most common type of pneumonia; hospital-acquired pneumonia (a serious condition because the hospital bacteria can be hard to treat); aspiration pneumonia (when liquids or other irritants are inhaled); and opportunistic pneumonia which occurs in people with weakened immune system.
Pneumonia is caused by many different organisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. In adults, pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria (the Legionella bacteria was responsible for a well-known outbreak of pneumonia called Legionnaires' disease).
Young children are more likely to develop pneumonia from exposure to a virus and if they live with poultry they can get pneumonia because bird droppings carry an organism which can cause it.
The most important symptoms of pneumonia are shortness of breath, chest pain, cough, shallow breathing, fever and chills.
Coughs usually bring up mucus, also called sputum, which can be streaked with blood or pus. In serious cases, the patient’s lips or nail bed will appear blue due to lack of oxygen.
In the case of bacterial lung infections, which can develop over just a few hours, the temperature is high (up to 41C), and in the case of viral pneumonia it is moderate (up to about 39C).
There is wide-spread belief that 37.2C during several days is the sign of pneumonia but this is not true, that can be the sign of many health problems.
Any person exposed to the germs that cause pneumonia can develop it, but it is more likely to occur in people with weaken immune system because of an acute or chronic condition.
People stuck to bed, paralyzed persons, children under one year and elderly over the 65 years have increased risk of pneumonia and must pay great attention to symptoms.
Pneumonia is also the most common cause of death in patients hospitalized because of some other disease.
When the doctor diagnoses pneumonia, he will treat you depending on your previous health condition and pneumonia severity, but you will end up in bed, resting and drinking a lot of fluid, and using antibiotics depending on the type of pneumonia. The patients who have another disease or major difficulty breathing will stay in a hospital.
In the case of viral pneumonia there is no cure - the patient must simply wait for it to go away, using medicine to lower down the temperature.
It is important that if your child has pneumonia you should never give it aspirin, it can cause a serious health complications like internal bleeding in the stomach.
Most people recover from pneumonia completely, but some of them will develop complications no matter how good the treatment is.
The first way to prevent pneumonia is to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, stay physically fit, and get enough sleep. This will keep your immune system strong. The second is to get vaccinated. There are no vaccines for most types of pneumonia, but the two most common types (influenza virus and pneumococcus) can be prevented with vaccines.
Another way to limit the spread of the viruses and bacteria that can cause pneumonia is to wash your hands frequently.
Since pneumonia can kill you, you should see the doctor immediately if you have a persistent cough, short breath, pain in the chest, fever that you can't explain - especially if it's around 39C and lasts for several days, if you feel worse after a cold or the flu, or if you cough up blood or oddly-coloured, foul-smelling sputum.
If you are older than 65 don't wait, see the doctor as soon as possible. ■