Pneumonia Complications

Pneumonia is a type of lung infection usually caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus. While a pneumonia infection in one lung (lobar pneumonia) typically results in milder cases, bronchial pneumonia (affecting both lungs) is far more serious.

Every year, while five million Americans receive treatment for pneumonia, over 60,000 die from this respiratory infection. An individual’s risk of contracting pneumonia depends on:

  • his age
  • his current state of health
  • his occupation (Those who regularly work with abrasive chemicals are far more likely to breathe them in and develop pneumonia.)
  • the particular strain of infection.

Pneumonia Complications

Serious pneumonia and pediatric pneumonia complications can occur if a patient does not receive the necessary treatment for his infection. Pneumonia complications can include:

  • Abscesses: An abscess is a pus or liquid-filled cavity that develops in the lung. While abscesses are usually treated with antibiotics, in rare cases, they may need to be surgically removed.
  • Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS): ARDS is a pneumonia complication that occurs when the inflammation or fluid build-up in the lung lead to low oxygen levels in the blood. Any disease that injures or distresses the lungs, including pneumonia, can cause ARDS. ARDS Symptoms include blue lips or skin (cyanosis), breathing difficulties, low blood pressure and shock. If you have ARDS symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.
  • Bacteremia: Bacteremia occurs when the bacteria causing pneumonia spreads into a patient’s bloodstream. It is the most common pneumonia complication and is quite dangerous. Once in the bloodstream, infectious bacteria can spread to other organs, like the brain, and cause abscesses that must be removed. Septicemia is one type of bacteria notorious for spreading throughout the body.
  • Collapsed lungs: When pneumonia causes fluid to build up in the lungs, it generally accumulates between the pleura (the transparent membrane that covers the lungs) and the lungs themselves. If this fluid continues to build up and isn’t drained, it can cause the lungs to collapse from excessive pressure.
  • Hemoptysis: This pneumonia complication causes patients to cough up blood. It typically occurs in patients who also suffer from other lung illnesses like cystic fibrosis.

Pediatric Pneumonia Complications

While infants are susceptible to developing the above pneumonia complications, they are also especially at risk for developing meningitis, an infection and inflammation of the tissue lining the brain and spinal cord. Because meningitis is fatal, infants with pneumonia should be hospitalized for immediate medical care.

People at Risk for Pneumonia Complications

While healthy, young adults have strong immune systems that can sufficiently fight off pneumonia infections and prevent serious complications, those who are at the highest risk of developing these serious complications include:

  • babies and infants
  • cancer or chemotherapy patients
  • coma patients (These people are more likely to inhale food, mucus and other foreign substances that cause pneumonia infections.)
  • HIV or AIDS patients
  • smokers
  • the elderly (especially those over 65)
  • those regularly exposed to harsh chemicals
  • those with heart problems
  • those with chronic respiratory diseases.

Pneumonia Treatments

Most pneumonia complications, even pediatric pneumonia complications, are treatable. Treatments may include:

  • a course of antibiotics
  • antiviral medications
  • oxygen therapy, if a patient is hospitalized
  • surgeries to remove abscesses.

Doctors also recommend that patients do the following to strengthen their immune systems and minimize the symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Avoid people infected with other contagious conditions.
  • Drink plenty of water (and other non-caffeinated fluids).
  • Rest.
  • Take vitamins and supplements.
  • Use a humidifier to aid breathing.

While symptoms for mild cases of pneumonia should clear up with treatment in one to two weeks, the infection will likely be fully out of your body about four weeks after you contract it.


Blaivas, Allen J. (2007). Pneumonia Health Article. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Healthline Web site. (2008). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Mama’s Health Web site.

Mayo Clinic (2007). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 21, 2008, from the Mayo Clinic Web site.