Pneumonia is a lung infection that affects more than three million Americans every year. Pneumonia kills approximately five percent of adults it infects, making the disease the sixth leading cause of death in the United States. In children, pneumonia kills approximately 19 percent of children under five years of age, making it the number one cause of death in children worldwide.

What is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia occurs when an infectious organism contaminates the alveolar air sacs of the lungs. The organism spreads and quickly becomes overwhelming. White blood cells of the immune system attempt to rid of the infectious organism. During this process, fluid, pus, and acute inflammatory infiltrates collect in the airspaces. Oxygen absorption is altered, making breathing difficult along with other symptoms of pneumonia. Most of the time, respiratory infections are mild diseases, but in pneumonia, more severe illness with complications may occur.

What Causes Pneumonia?

There is no single infectious agent that always causes pneumonia. A variety of background conditions must be met before the diagnosis of pneumonia can be given. Usually, pneumonia is initiated when foreign entitles enter the lungs, such as:

  • Bacteria
  • Fungii
  • Viruses.

The body’s immune system and cough reflexes keep most infectious agents out of the lungs, but occasionally, organisms slip past these defenses.

Pneumonia may be caused by breathing in airborne organisms that are transmitted when sick people cough or sneeze. Naturally, there are organisms that exist in the throat, nose, or mouth. However, when these organisms reach the lungs, pneumonia can eventually occur. Such organisms may be aspirated via nasal or mouth secretions, for instance, during sleep.

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Initial symptoms of pneumonia often appear to be flu symptoms, including cough and high fever. Symptoms of pneumonia vary depending on the type of organism, extent of disease, and any existing co-morbidities. Some of these symptoms include:

  • Chest pain
  • Cough
  • Fatigue
  • Fever
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Shaking and child
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating.

Symptoms of pneumonia aren’t consistent from one person to another. For instance, people with compromised immune systems and the elderly often display milder symptoms of pneumonia, even though they are at high risk of the disease.

Risk Factors of Pneumonia

Certain circumstances increase the risk of developing pneumonia that may require attentive medical treatment. These risks may include:

  • Age (the elderly are a high risk group for pneumonia)
  • Alcoholism
  • Compromised immune systems
  • Corticosteroid use
  • Drug abuse
  • Exposure to specific chemicals/pollutants
  • Heart disease
  • Hospitalization in an ICU (intensive care unit)
  • Native American/Native Alaskan heritage
  • Prior lung disease
  • Recent viral infections
  • Smokers
  • Strokes or seizures
  • Surgery/traumatic injury
  • Swallowing problems.

Treatment of Pneumonia

Treatment of pneumonia depends on etiology. Bacterial pneumonia (one of the most serious types of pneumonia) can be treated with antibiotics. Several strains of pneumonia-causing bacteria are, however, becoming resistant to antibiotics, especially in a hospital environment.

Viral pneumonia can be treated with antiviral medications, but is more often treated with increased fluids and bed rest. Antifungal medication is a possible treatment for fungal-associated pneumonia.

Successful treatment of pneumonia takes time and watchful waiting. While the initial infection may be cured quickly, it can take weeks for the affected person to reach baseline physical and mental levels.

Information on Pneumonia Prevention

While there’s no guaranteed way to prevent pneumonia, you may reduce your risk of infection by following these tips:

  • Avoid smoking.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Eat a healthy diet to strengthen your immune system.
  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Treat cases of GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease).
  • Wash hands regularly.

If you have symptoms of pneumonia, seek medical help as soon as possible. Early detection increases the effectiveness of treatment for pneumonia.

If you happen to have a bout of pneumonia, there are several important measures you can take. Avoid spreading the infection by:

  • Avoiding contact with people in high risk groups for pneumonia.
  • Coughing into tissues.
  • Wearing face masks.

Talk to your doctor for more in-depth information about pneumonia.


Mayo Clinic Staff. (2009). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from the Mayo Clinic Web site:

MedicineNet Staff. (2008). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from the MedicineNet Web site:

U.S. National Library of Health Staff. (2009). Pneumonia. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from the MedlinePlus Web site: