Pneumonia is basically the fancy term for infection of the lungs, caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. More specifically, it refers to infection of the alveoli, which are tiny air sacs that make up the lungs. With an infection, the air sacs will be inflamed (swell up) and fluid will accumulate in the air sacs. The fluid takes up space within the alveoli, and this blocks fresh oxygen from entering the alveoli. Ultimately, this leads to less oxygen entering the body, which results in a host of other problems as explained below.
Causes of pneumonia and is it contagious?
Pneumonia can arise from three main sources – virus, bacteria, and fungi. When any of these foreign bodies enter our respiratory system, our body then launches an immune response to alert the body to the invader. The effects of this immune response are inflammation of the alveoli and the symptoms we experience during a case of pneumonia.
With pneumonia, the severity ranges from mild to possibly fatal. Most people will recover from pneumonia in one to three weeks, but if left untreated, pneumonia can definitely be life-threatening. This is especially the case for people who are above 65 years of age, have a weakened immune system, consume a lot of alcohol, or have underlying medical problems. If the symptoms of pneumonia persist for more than three weeks, and you are down with extremely high fever of more than 38.9, then it is time to visit the doctor.
Pneumonia is an airborne disease and definitely contagious. Ways that pneumonia can be transmitted are:
- Touching a contaminated surface
- Coming into contact with the body fluids of an infected person
Common symptoms of pneumonia
Cough: What is pneumonia without cough? The most common symptom is cough with phlegm of colour – yellow, green or bloody. This is because the fluid in the air sacs interferes with our breathing, hence our body will try to remove the fluid via coughing it out as phlegm or as mucus. People with viral pneumonia
Fever: When our body tries to alert itself to foreign invaders by launching an immune response, one of the body’s responses would be to raise our body temperature. This higher body temperature makes it more difficult for the foreign invaders to multiply and grow in our body. Some research has even shown that our immune system might be enhanced when our body temperature increases, helping us to fight the foreign invaders.
Shortness of breath: It is the feeling of not being able to get enough air into our lungs, sometimes accompanied with tightness in the chest. During pneumonia, fluid that has accumulated in the alveoli takes up space and blocks air from entering the alveoli, leading to the feeling of shortness of breath.
Treatment and recovery
Treatment for pneumonia differs based on the type of pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is treated by antibiotics, and fungal pneumonia is usually treated with antifungal medication. For viral pneumonia, we usually have to let it run its course, or treat the symptoms instead (taking medication for pain or fever, resting well, staying hydrated). Most viral infections are milder and thus can resolve on its own, but in some cases antiviral medication is required.
Ultimately, for all types of pneumonia, what’s most important in one’s recovery is to rest when the body feels tired, and to ensure sufficient hydration. Most people can recover from pneumonia in one to three weeks, though that is of course dependent on one’s age, lifestyle, and existing immune system.
Is it possible to avoid pneumonia?
There are certainly measures we can take to reduce the risk of catching pneumonia. Because pneumonia can spread through the air, avoid coming too close in contact with people who have pneumonia. People with pneumonia should also take measures to prevent spreading of the infection, such as covering their mouths when sneezing and coughing, disposing away used tissue, and washing their hands thoroughly with soap.
We hope you have a clearer idea of what pneumonia is now! If you’ve ever had pneumonia, share your experience with us and how you managed it in the comments section down below!
UpToDate, 27 December 2018: www.uptodate.com/contents/pneumonia-in-adults-beyond-the-basics
Family Doctor, 27 December 2018: https://familydoctor.org/condition/shortness-of-breath/
Science Daily, 27 December 2018: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/11/111101130200.htm
Healthline, 27 December 2018: https://www.healthline.com/health/viral-pneumonia#risks