What are the different types of pneumonia?
There are different causes of pneumonia, and knowing which one you have can help a doctor decide how to best treat you. In all types of pneumonia, the lung infection causes fluid to build up in the alveoli (small air sacs inside the lung).
Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is the most common type of pneumonia. You can catch CAP in public places from other people who have pneumonia. You can also develop CAP after you have had a viral infection, such as the flu.
CAP can be caused by different microorganisms;
- Bacteria: most commonly affect adults. Bacterial CAP tends to be more serious compared to CAP caused by other microorganisms
- Viruses: most commonly affect children under two years old. Although it tends to be less severe than bacterial CAP, some strains of viruses can cause a person to become very ill
- Fungi: most commonly affect people with a weakened immune system, for example because of HIV or cancer
Healthcare-associated pneumonia is pneumonia that develops whilst someone is being cared for in a healthcare facility, for example in a hospital or nursing home. Due to the microorganisms that are prevalent in these types of facilities, healthcare-associated pneumonia can be more deadly than community-acquired pneumonia (CAP).
This type of pneumonia develops when someone is in hospital because of a different health problem. People who are on ventilators (a machine that helps a person breathe) are at the highest risk of getting infected with hospital-acquired pneumonia.
Aspiration pneumonia can develop after a person has inhaled foods or liquids into their lungs. This causes inflammation of the lungs, without infection by microorganisms. People who are at risk of aspiration pneumonia are people who have difficulty swallowing liquids or have a decreased level of alertness: for example, people who have had a stroke.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
Some symptoms of pneumonia to look out for include:
- Chesty cough, shortness of breath, and chest pain
- Fever, sweating and chills
- Lower than normal body temperature, especially in older people and people with a weakened immune system
- Confusion or change in awareness, especially in people over 65 years old
- Nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea
If a doctor suspects pneumonia, they may then take a chest X-ray to help with the diagnostic process. Once a diagnosis of pneumonia is made, a doctor then decides a treatment plan as well as whether to treat the patient at home or in the hospital.
What are the risks and complications associated with pneumonia?
People who frequently come into contact with a lot of people, such as university students and military personnel, are at a higher risk of contracting community-acquired pneumonia (CAP).
Some people are at a higher risk of complications if they contract pneumonia. This includes:
- People who have an underlying lung disease, such as asthma, COPD, and cystic fibrosis
- People who have a chronic, systemic disease such as diabetes
- People who have a weakened immune system, such as people with HIV or patients undergoing cancer treatment
- Very young children and the elderly
Complications from pneumonia are wide ranging and include:
- Bacteraemia (bacteria in the bloodstream). Bacteria from the lungs can get into the bloodstream to move into other organs
- Pleural effusion (fluid build up around the lungs), which can potentially get infected
- Lung abscesses (a build up of pus in the lung cavities). This is normally treated with antibiotics. If this is severe, abscesses may need to be drained
How do you catch pneumonia?
There are three main ways that you can get pneumonia.
- Some people have the bacteria that can cause pneumonia living in their upper airways (nose, throat, and upper part of the trachea). When these spread downwards into the lungs, it can cause pneumonia.
- People who have an active pneumonia infection can spread the bacteria in the form of droplets. If another person inhales the droplets into their lungs, they can then develop pneumonia.
- People who have difficulty swallowing gets foods or liquids into their lungs, causing irritation (aspiration pneumonia).
Pneumonia in children
Children are at a higher risk of complications when they develop pneumonia because their immune systems are not yet fully developed. Additionally, in babies and very young children, symptoms of pneumonia can show up differently to how they show in adults. These are the symptoms to look out for:
- Pale skin
- Being limp and lethargic, irritable, or restless
- Crying more than usual
- Feeding poorly
- Breathing quickly
If your child is breathing quickly and using their belly muscles to help them breathe, it is a sign that they need medical attention. If your child displays these symptoms, go to your nearest Accident & Emergency department.
How is pneumonia treated?
In most cases of bacterial pneumonia, a doctor will give you a course of antibiotics. Whilst undergoing the treatment, your doctor will advise you to drink lots of fluids, eat well, and rest.
Some types of viral pneumonia can be treated with antiviral drugs but in many cases, viral infections resolve without treatment.
If you develop complications, your doctor will usually treat them to alleviate symptoms. If you experience a build up of fluid in the chest for example, it may be drained.
How can I protect myself or my child from pneumonia?
There are simple measures that you can take to protect yourself or your child against pneumonia. For example, you can take steps to protect yourself against infections in general:
- Washing your hands often: before handling food, or after you go to the toilet
- Covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze
- Staying home when you’re sick
- Quitting smoking
Because pneumonia can develop after you have been infected with the flu, it is important that if you are advised to get a yearly flu shot that you receive it.
Additionally, the pneumococcal vaccine can protect you against the bacteria that most commonly causes pneumonia. You can get the pneumococcal vaccination with Superdrug Health Clinics.