Pneumonia is a lung infection that causes the air sacs (alveoli) in your lungs to fill with fluids or pus. Fluid in your alveoli may, in turn, cause cough with mucus, fever and difficulty in breathing. Several organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
Pneumonia is a disease of public health interest since it is related to hygiene as well. Many patients are infected with pneumonia either within their community or in hospitals without proper infection control.
Pneumonia symptoms can be mild to life-threatening. They can include:
- Coughing that may produce phlegm (mucus).
- Sweating or chills.
- Shortness of breath that happens while doing normal activities or even while resting.
- Chest pain that’s worse when you breathe or cough.
- Feelings of tiredness or fatigue.
- Loss of appetite.
- Nausea or vomiting.
Other symptoms can vary according to your age and general health:
- Children under 5 years old may have fast breathing or wheezing.
- Infants may appear to have no symptoms, but sometimes they may vomit, lack energy, or have trouble drinking or eating.
- Older people may have milder symptoms. They can also exhibit confusion or a lower than normal body temperature.
You can get pneumonia from an infection with bacteria (like Streptococcus pneumonia), viruses (like the Covid-19 virus) or even when you inhale food, water or other substances into your lungs. You can contract these infections in your community or in the hospital, which is likely to be more serious.
Anyone can get pneumonia, but certain groups do have a higher risk. These groups include:
- Infants from birth to 2 years old.
- People ages 65 years and older.
- People with weakened immune systems because of disease or use of medications, such as steroids or certain cancer drugs.
- People with certain chronic medical conditions, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes, or heart failure.
- People who’ve recently had a respiratory infection, such as a cold or the flu.
- People who’ve been recently or are currently hospitalized, particularly if they were or are on a ventilator.
- People who’ve had a stroke, have problems swallowing, or have a condition that causes immobility.
- People who smoke, use certain types of drugs, or drink excessive amounts of alcohol.
- People who’ve been exposed to lung irritants, such as pollution, fumes, and certain chemicals.
Ensure that you see your healthcare provider if you have difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent fever of 39C or higher, or persistent cough, especially if you're coughing up pus.
If you are at high risk of pneumonia, your healthcare provider can recommend that you get vaccinated with the pneumococcal vaccine (PCV13 or PPSV23). This can protect you from most bacteria that cause the condition. You can also reduce your risk of pneumonia by eating a balanced diet that supports your immunity, and practice good hygiene (e.g. regular hand washing) to reduce the risk of contracting infections.
There are different treatments for different types of pneumonia.
- Bacterial types of pneumonia are usually treated with antibiotics. Make sure you complete the dosage even if you begin to feel better. Failure to do so can prevent the infection from being cleared and make it difficult to treat in the future.
- Viral types of pneumonia are usually treated with rest and plenty of fluids. You can use antiviral medications to treat influenza.
- Fungal types of pneumonia are usually treated with antifungal medications.
- Your doctor may recommend over-the-counter (OTC) medication to relieve your pain and fever, as needed. These may include paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin.
- Your doctor may also recommend cough medicine to calm your cough so you can rest. Remember that coughing helps remove fluid from your lungs, so you don’t want to eliminate it.
- You can help your recovery and prevent a recurrence by getting a lot of rest and drinking plenty of fluids. Staying hydrated helps to break up thick mucus, making it easier to cough up.
- Hospitalization for pneumonia may be required if symptoms are serious or if an individual has a weakened immune system (e.g. HIV/ AIDS).
- Some types of pneumonia are preventable by vaccination. The Nigerian government provides the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine as part of routine vaccination for children born from 2014. Immune-compromised adults (e.g. HIV positive) can take two doses of pneumonia vaccine before 65 years. In healthy adults, one dose after 65 years is recommended.
Pneumonia can be a serious disease but can also be prevented. Practice good hygiene. To protect yourself against respiratory infections that sometimes lead to pneumonia, wash your hands regularly or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser.
Recovering from pneumonia often takes a few days to a few weeks, depending on the type of pneumonia you have. You may feel still feel fatigued and lack energy for a while after finishing your medications. Continue to get plenty of rest, eat a diet that supports your immunity and drink lots of fluids. Check in with your healthcare provider for a follow-up as scheduled and discuss challenges that exist.
Don't smoke. Smoking damages your lungs' natural defences against respiratory infections.
To keep your immune system strong, get enough sleep, exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet. Vaccines are also available to prevent some types of pneumonia. Talk with your healthcare provider about getting these shots.