Pneumonia is the inflammation of one or both lungs, usually due to an infection in the chest. At the end of the breathing tubes in the lungs there are clusters of tiny air sacs. When these sacs become inflamed, they fill up with fluid, making it difficult to breath and causing coughing fits.
It also disrupts the normal process of gas exchange, where oxygen is taken into the body and carbon dioxide removed. This lack of oxygen supply to the tissues could be fatal, if left untreated.
The same condition with the same causes and treatment is also sometimes referred to as bronchopneumonia, lobar pneumonia and double pneumonia, according to the NHS.
What causes it?
Many different bacteria, viruses and (rarely) fungi can cause pneumonia. One of the most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Other common causes include haemophilus and staphylococcus. More unusual bacteria are sometimes found, especially in people with underlying problems with their immune systems, according to BBC Health.
The germ depends on where the pneumonia began. For example, the germs that cause pneumonia caught in hospitals are different to those that cause it when caught in the community.
Viruses that cause pneumonia most commonly include the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and sometimes the flu (influenza) type A or B virus.
Aspiration pneumonia can occur when the sufferer breathes in vomit, a foreign object (such as a peanut) or a harmful substance of some sort (smoke or chemical). These cause irritation in the lungs and damage them.
Fungal pneumonia rarely affects normally healthy people, but usually targets those with an existing health condition. It is commonly found in some parts of the US, Mexico, South America and Africa.
Factors such as smoking, heavy drinking, chronic lung disease or underlying illness can sometimes increase young people’s risk of contracting pneumonia. Older people, or those in hospital are more at risk due to general illness, immobility and the presence of many more resistant bacteria within the hospital environment.
What are the symptoms?
Common symptoms of pneumonia include:
- Shortness of breath, even when resting and general difficulty breathing
- Shallow breathing
- Coughing up sputum, which may be green, rusty or blood-stained
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sweating and shivering
- Stabbing chest pains
- Nausea and vomiting
- Headaches and muscle pain
- Loss of appetite
- General feeling of being unwell
How is it treated?
A doctor usually examines the chest by listening to it and only in more severe cases, is it necessary to take an X-ray.
Mild pneumonia is treated at home with a dose of antibiotics. Symptoms normally start improving within to days of beginning treatment. Some people with severe pneumonia may need hospital treatment.
Common painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen can help reduce aches and fever, but cough mixtures are not recommended, as it is important for the body to rid itself of the mucus. It is also important to drink plenty of fluids and not smoke during the period of illness.
Celebrities who have suffered from pneumonia include Brittany Murphy’s husband, Simon Monjack, Limp Bizkit drummer John Otto, comedian Leslie Nielsen and the original socialite Zsa Zsa Gabor.
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