Pneumonia, What You Should Know To Stay Safe

Pneumonia left untreated can cause serious illness to young kids, the elderly, and people who have other health problems. Find out what makes it so dangerous.




Pneumonia: What Is It?

Pneumonia starts when a virus, fungus, or bacterium gets into one of your lungs. (If it’s in both lungs, it’s called double pneumonia.) It causes the tiny sacs inside to get inflamed and fill with fluid or pus. If you’re healthy and get treated right away, it usually isn’t serious. But it can be dangerous for senior citizens, children, and people with chronic illness or weakened immune systems.


Pneumonia: How It Starts

Most of the time, your body filters germs from the air to protect your lungs. Coughing also helps keep them out. If they do get in, your immune system usually fights them off before they make you sick. But if the germ is really strong or your body can’t do its part, your lungs can get infected. When your immune system sends cells to attack the germs, your lungs get inflamed, and that leads to pneumonia.


Pneumonia: Symptoms

You may have a high fever, chills, shortness of breath, and chest pain when you breathe. You’ll also probably have a deep cough that doesn’t go away and brings up a thick liquid called phlegm. If you’re able to go about your daily business with these symptoms, you might have “walking pneumonia,” which is often caused by a certain kind of bacteria called Mycoplasma pneumoniae. But if your symptoms are worse than that, you should see your doctor.


Pneumonia: Bacteria

Some of these tiny organisms are a natural and healthy part of your body, like in your gut, where they help you digest food. Others can make you sick. Most cases in the United States are caused by bacteria. Antibiotics can kill them and help you get better.


Pneumonia: Viruses

The flu virus is the most common cause in adults, but any virus that infects your mouth, nose, throat, or lungs can lead to it. The symptoms are usually milder than with bacterial form, and your body typically fights it off in 1 to 3 weeks.


Pneumonia: Fungi

Some of these are useful: Mushrooms are a kind of fungus, and mold is what makes blue cheese blue. But some can cause pneumonia. Antifungal drugs are usually used to treat it, but people who have HIV or AIDS or who take drugs that make their immune systems weak, like some cancer drugs, can get a kind called pneumocystis. It’s more serious and can be hard to get rid of.

It’s not always easy to find out what’s caused your problem. Phlegm from your cough can be tested for bacteria, and urine tests can sometimes tell your doctor what’s causing it. She also may ask about recent travel, hobbies, animals, sick people you’ve been around, vaccinations, and drugs you take.


Pneumonia: Trouble Breathing

If you’re older or have other health problems, your lungs may not work the way should. If they don’t, you may not have enough oxygen in your blood, which your brain, muscles, and other organs need. You may need to get more oxygen through a breathing mask, or possibly use a ventilator until your lung heals.

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