Pneumonia Causes

Pneumonia is a lung infection diagnosed by listening to sounds in the chest and by taking chest x-rays that show evidence of lung congestion. Because bacteria, fungus and viruses can all cause pneumonia, symptoms and treatment for this respiratory condition depend on the precise cause of the condition.

Main Causes of Pneumonia

In most cases, pneumonia results from a bacterial infection in the lungs. Usually, our immune system protects our bodies from accepting bacteria through the nasal passages, preventing it from reaching the lungs. However, some of these organisms are sneaky and get past the defense mechanism, finding their way into the lungs’ air sacs so that they can multiply and spread infection.

Along with bacteria, other primary causes of pneumonia include:

  • foreign substances: Chemicals, food and other substances can, at times, get lodged in the lungs, trigger infection and result in pneumonia. Those who work with chemicals or suffer from seizures are most likely to inhale foreign, pneumonia-causing substances.
  • fungus: Inhaling particular types of fungus can cause pneumonia. Pneumocystis carinii, in particular, is a fungus that tends to cause pneumonia in those with weakened immune systems, such as HIV patients or the elderly.
  • other organisms: Various amoebas and other small organisms have virus-like properties. Rarely, inhalation of these microorganisms can cause pneumonia.
  • viruses: A number of different viruses, including some that are also responsible for the flu, can cause pneumonia. While viral pneumonia tends to be more prevalent in the fall and winter seasons, it is also common among those sharing close quarters with an infected individual. Because viral pneumonia can develop into the more severe bacterial pneumonia, getting treatment as soon as symptoms arise is a good idea.

Pneumonia: Who is at Risk

While most of us come into regular contact with bacteria and viruses without getting sick, people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to these organisms, as their immune systems aren’t strong enough to fight them off. Those with the highest risk of developing serious, potentially fatal cases of pneumonia include:

  • AIDS or HIV patients
  • chemotherapy or cancer patients
  • the elderly
  • those on certain medications
  • those who have donated or are receiving organ or tissue donations.

Types of Pneumonia

The underlying cause of a pneumonia case determines what type of pneumonia a patient has. The different types of pneumonia include:

  • Aspiration Pneumonia: While rare, aspiration pneumonia occurs when a person inhales vomit, food, chemicals or any other foreign substances. Although a normal gag reflex should flush out these substances, in some cases, they may seep down into the lungs.

    Anyone who lacks a normal gag reflex, including coma patients and those with brain injuries, is susceptible to aspiration pneumonia. Similarly, industrial workers who regularly come into contact with harsh, airborne chemicals are also at a higher risk of developing aspiration pneumonia.

  • Community Acquired Pneumonia (CAP): This type of pneumonia spreads quickly among those who haven’t been recently treated in a hospital. Because CAP usually results from a viral or bacterial infection, it can cause pneumonia outbreaks in dorms, prisons or anywhere else people are densely concentrated./
  • Hospital Acquired Pneumonia (HAP): Believe it or not, you are at a higher risk for pneumonia if you are hospitalized. This is because your immune system may be weakened by the medication you’re taking, the disease you have or the cause of hospital admission. HAP is also known as “nosocomial pneumonia.”

    Because pneumonia thrives in those with weakened immune systems and hospitals tend to put people in close quarters, HAP is more common than you may think.

Preventing Pneumonia

Protect yourself against pneumonia by following these health tips:

  • Be diligent in washing your hands.
  • Consult your doctor about your medications and your risk of lung problems.
  • Get a flu shot.
  • Get plenty of rest and eat a healthy diet, especially during cold and flu season.
  • Pay attention to your breathing and see a doctor immediately if you have any concerns.

Pneumonia can be a serious, life-threatening infection. However, early detection and immediate treatment prevent complications and put you back on the road towards good health.

Resources

Mayoclinic.com (n.d.). Infectious Disease/Pneumonia. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site.

Medicinenet.com (n.d.). Index/Pneumonia. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from the United Medicine Net Web site.