What Causes Pneumonia? Your Complete Guide To Understanding This Disease


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Pneumonia is a disease of your lungs. It is characterized by an inflammation of the alveoli (the airspaces in your lungs). Pneumonia can be lethal and almost 1.5 million people succumb to it yearly across the world. It is a misconception that it only happens to the elderly because pneumonia can strike a person at any age. Worldwide it is the commonest cause of death caused by an infection in children younger than 5 years. That is why we have to keep your guard up against pneumonia at all times. To up the ante against pneumonia, you will first have to learn what causes pneumonia.

What causes pneumonia?

Let us take a look at the causes of pneumonia

1. Bacteria

Pneumonia caused by bacteria can happen all of a sudden or it might take root after some other infection of the upper respiratory system or the flu. This form of pneumonia only affects a particular part of the lungs. People who are most likely to contract bacterial pneumonia are-

  • People in a hospital recovering from an illness or surgery
  • Those who have a very weak immunity

The most prevalent bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia which is caused by Streptococcus pneumonia. Other bacteria that cause pneumonia are-

  • Mycoplasma pneumonia
  • Chlamydophila pneumonia
  • Legionella pneumophila

2. Viruses

When viruses cause an infection of the upper respiratory system, it could lead to pneumonia as well. The flu virus is responsible for most of the cases of viral pneumonia. Whereas the respiratory syncytial virus triggers the commonest form of viral pneumonia in children.Viral pneumonia is not as severe as bacterial pneumonia and does not last for that long either. However, pneumonia caused by the flu virus can enter the lungs and create more virus. The tissues of the lungs do not become laden with fluids- a usual sign of pneumonia. People who are particularly affected by viral pneumonia are-

  • Pregnant women
  • People with heart or lung diseases

Viral pneumonia can become yet more dangerous when bacteria invade the lungs.

3.  Fungi

Fungal pneumonia may happen to people who have-

  • Been diagnosed with chronic illnesses
  • Very weakened immunity

People who are exposed to fungi that live in the soil or in bird droppings are also more likely to contract fungal pneumonia than others.One such very dangerous fungal pneumonia is Pneumocystis pneumoniais. This is triggered by HIV/AIDs that is notorious for making your immunity toothless,s or by consuming medicines that suppress the immunity.Some fungi that can cause pneumonia are-

  • Histoplasmosis
  • Coccidioidomycosis
  • Cryptococcus

Is pneumonia contagious?

Almost all forms of pneumonia are not very contagious. While the possibility of the disease being passed on through contact cannot be eliminated, it hardly ever happens. However, pneumonia caused by Mycoplasma pneumoniae is truly contagious.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Here are the classic symptoms of pneumonia-

  • Coughing
  • Green phlegm or sputum that forces their way up from the lungs when the person coughs
  • Rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • Fever
  • Chills and shaking accompanied by fever
  • Pain in the chest which feels acute when the person breathes in deeply
  • Nausea and throwing up
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Headache and sweating
  • Muscle pain or cramps
  • Delirium while the fever runs high
  • The skin turns purple due to poor blood and oxygen supply

Pneumonia treatment

The treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have contracted. So, here is what you can expect-

  • Antibiotics for treating bacterial pneumonia
  • Fluids and aspirin for viral pneumonia
  • Antifungal drugs for curing fungal pneumonia

You may also be prescribed nasal decongestants, pills to make pain and cramps subside and similar OTC drugs. You will also have to consume plenty of fluids because hydration waters down thickened phlegm and helps your lungs remove the extra mucus. Rest and sleep are also recommended to allow your body to focus on healing itself.If the symptoms are too severe or if the person already has a weak immunity or other serious illnesses, then hospitalization may be necessary. Follow your doctor’s lead on this one.

Pneumonia prevention

Now that you know what causes pneumonia, here are a few things you can do to minimize your risk of pneumonia-

  1. Get the flu shot every year and make sure you’ve been administered the pneumococcal vaccine
  2. Work out to strengthen your lungs and immune system.
  3. Eat plenty of vegetables because they contain vitamins that boost your immunity.
  4. Avoid smoking because the toxins in tobacco wreak havoc with your lungs and weaken them.

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  1. Lung.org
  2. Medicinenet