- Diseases, Disorders & Conditions
Pneumonia Causes and Treatment
The lung is much like a sponge. It is light, fluffy and full of air. Now imagine dipping that sponge into a jar of honey. It will come out clogged up, heavy and sticky.
Now when someone develops pneumonia, the section of lung affected becomes just like that honey soaked sponge, except instead of honey, it's a thick sticky pus.
Pneumonia is a bacterial infection of the tiny air bubbles that form the major part of the lung and enable the oxygen to cross into the bloodstream. Normally these bacteria are destroyed by the body's defense mechanisms, but if the person is tired, run-down and overworked, or is suffering from other illnesses, the bacteria may be able to get a hold and start multiplying.
Often the bottom of your chest is affected at first, but the infection may spread to other parts of the lung.
The symptoms of pneumonia may be obvious, with fever, cough and chest pains, but some bacteria are far more insidious and cause ongoing minimal symptoms for months. The patient may just feel tired, short of breath and have intermittent sweats.
A chest X-ray is always necessary when a
doctor suspects pneumonia, as the damaged section of lung can be seen,
and the extent of the infection assessed. A sample of sputum is taken
before treatment is started, and this is sent to a laboratory where the
infecting bacteria can be identified. Once one type of bacteria are in
residence, your resistance to further infection is lowered, and it is
much easier for a second type of bacteria to infect the lungs as well.
When this happens, both types of bacteria can be identified by the
laboratory, and you are said to have double pneumonia. It is possible
to have triple, and rarely even quadruple pneumonia if you are
particularly unlucky! The laboratory will also be able to tell which
antibiotics will kill the various types of bacteria infecting your
lungs. The appropriate combination of antibiotics can then be given by
the doctor to cure the condition.
Treatment may be started before the laboratory results are received, but sometimes the antibiotic has to be changed to a more appropriate one at a later date. Medications to open up the airways and loosen the phlegm may also be prescribed, along with cough mixtures and pain-killers. Regular physiotherapy is very important to drain the foul collection of pus out of the chest. While this remains, the patient cannot recover.
The other important factors in treatment are rest and the cessation of smoking. If the patient tries to keep working, the body cannot gain enough energy to help the antibiotics fight off the infection. Anyone who continues to smoke while they have pneumonia is effectively frustrating every effort of the doctors and therapists to cure them.
X-rays will be taken at regular intervals throughout the treatment to ensure that the pneumonia is resolving. Most patients settle in a couple of weeks, but some may take months. Occasionally oxygen is required for seriously ill patients with a large area of lung affected by pneumonia. In rare cases, surgery to drain out collections of pus or remove areas of chronically infected lung is required.
Inadequately treated pneumonia can cause chronic ill health, and lead to permanent lung damage. Once the lung is damaged, the chances of developing a subsequent attack of pneumonia is increased, and smoking will again accelerate this process. Pneumonia, particularly recurrent attacks, puts a great strain on the heart, and this vital organ may fail in older or more debilitated patients.
Pneumonia is one of man's oldest enemies, but with the correct treatment and the cooperation of the patient, the majority of patients can soon return to a normal active life.
Mycoplasma pneumoniae is a bacterium that may cause a particularly insidious form of pneumonia. It tends to attack teenagers and young adults, and often in summer rather than winter. The symptoms are frequently mild at the beginning and slowly worsen over many weeks. A wheeze, persistent cough, tiredness, intermittent fever and loss of appetite are the most common symptoms.
The patient may be initially diagnosed as suffering from a viral infection or asthma, until their failure to respond to treatment leads the doctor to order a chest X-ray. This shows a typical pneumonia pattern in the lungs, and a sputum sample can then be cultured to determine the type of bacteria present. Blood tests show the presence of infection, but not the type of infection.
Once diagnosed, a course of antibiotics prescribed by your doctor can be used to cure the infection.
The information provided on this page is not intended as a substitute for the advice of a registered physician or other healthcare professional.
The content of this page is intended only to provide a summary and general overview. Do not use this information to disregard medical advice, nor to delay seeking medical advice.
Be sure to consult with your doctor for a professional diagnosis and appropriate medical treatment.