Pneumonia is a bacterial infection of the lung that affects as much as 7% of the global population each year. Prior to the 20th century and the development of antibiotics, pneumonia was a very prominent cause of death, prompting physician William Osler to dub it “the captain of the men of death”. Pneumonia is caused by infection from different bacteria or viruses.
It inflicts patients with the typical debilitating symptoms of illnesses, such as fever, cough, pains in the chest, diarrhea, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Pneumonia is a very common illness and can be contracted in any environment with bacteria present. It is usually prevalent in people recovering from the flu or previous sicknesses, making it more difficult for their immune systems to fight off the infection. While several medications and effective treatments have already been developed to treat the illness, patients are advised to seek help right away to prevent symptoms from worsening.
Causes of Pneumonia
Bacteria and viruses are the culprits behind most pneumonia cases. Once inhaled, they begin invading the entire respiratory tract and nest themselves in the cells of the alveoli. This leads to cell death and inflammation in the lungs, and the reaction may also spread to the other organs in the body. Bacteria are the most common cause of community-acquired pneumonia.
Streptococcus pneumoniae is responsible for up to 50% of pneumonia cases. Other strains typically present in most environments are Haemophilus influenza and Chlamydophila pneumoniae, which account for 20% and 13% of cases, respectively. The usual agents behind viral pneumonia include influenza, rhinoviruses, and the respiratory syncytial virus. Fungal pneumonia is not as common as the other two kinds, but may occur among patients already suffering from illnesses who were exposed to fungi, such as Histoplasma capsulatum and Cryptococcus neoformans. People in third world countries are more likely to catch parasitic pneumonia. Pneumonia can also be idiopathic or caused by certain conditions, like autoimmune diseases.
Symptoms of Pneumonia
Pneumonia itself refers to any condition that leads to inflammation in the lungs, known specifically as pneumonitis. People usually mistake pneumonia symptoms for those of the flu. Fatigue is the most prevalent symptom, followed by persistent coughing of sputum, fever, and shortness of breath. More severe symptoms include convulsions, vomiting, having cyanosis of the skin, and decreased consciousness. Different kinds of bacteria can cause patients to cough up different colors and consistencies of sputum, as with Streptococcus pneumonia leading to rust-colored sputum and tuberculosis causing bloody sputum. Other kinds of bacteria can lead to severe joint pains, ear infections, as well as the swelling up of the lymph nodes located in the neck.
While patients with serious symptoms may treat themselves from home, they are advised to consult a doctor immediately once they begin coughing up blood, experience shaking chills, begin wheezing, or have a fever of over 100º F. If these symptoms persist for over a month, the patient has most likely contracted bacterial or viral pneumonia.
Diagnosis of Pneumonia
Upon check-up, the doctor will first take the patient’s medical history and ask him or her questions about their family history and any previous instances of breathing problems or pains. One of the best ways to diagnose pneumonia is through a chest X-ray. Doctors will look for abnormal activity in the lungs, such as muscular infection, a collapsed lung, or a leakage of fluids. The patient’s respiratory rate must also be examined; 60 breaths per minute among children is defined as the minimum to indicate respiratory problems. Using a stethoscope, doctors may also perceive wheezing or crackling sounds in the patient’s breathing. A mucus test checks for infection in the mucus and is used to discern what kind of bacteria or viruses may be present. A urine sample can also be used to determine the same information.
Treatment of Pneumonia
Antibiotics are common and the most effective form of treatment for bacterial pneumonia and, in most cases, can lead to an improvement in symptoms in as soon as 3 days. Amoxicillin, doxycycline, and clarithromycin are all recommended medications for community-acquired pneumonia. Viral pneumonia cannot be treated with antibiotics and is instead countered with antiviral drugs known as neuraminidase inhibitors.
Vaccination treatment is a preventative measure against complications from developing, with the pneumococcal conjugate vaccine for children and the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine for adults. Mild cases of pneumonia can be treated at home, with proper bed rest, hydration, and medication. To treat breathing or lung problems, patients may be given an inhaler or a nebulizer to assist their breathing and alleviate wheezing symptoms. Respiratory therapy involves simple techniques used to unclog the mucus from the lungs. These include chest physiotherapy, wherein a cupped hand is used to strike the chest and dislodge the mucus, and postural drainage, which utilizes gravity to flush the mucus out through different body positions.
Pneumonia in society
Pneumonia is one of the top causes of death in many countries and claims up to 4 million fatalities globally each year. Many notable cultural figures and famous people have been victims of pneumonia. U.S. President Ronald Reagan died from pneumonia-related Alzheimer’s complications. Iconic singer Freddie Mercury of the band Queen died of bronchial pneumonia. Billions are invested each year in the research and treatment of pneumonia. November 12 has officially been declared World Pneumonia Day, wherein citizens are encouraged to learn more about and take their stand against the illness.