What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is described as inflammation or infection of the lungs caused by various microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites. The lungs have a number of tiny air sacs that fill with mucus, liquids and pus and have difficulty functioning properly. Very often pneumonia follows a cold or flu but may also occur on its own or as a result of underlying diseases. If left untreated, pneumonia can lead to more serious health problems.
There are various types of pneumonia and these include:
- Bacterial pneumonia is caused by various bacteria with the most one being Streptococcus pneumonia. It develops when the body is weak and the bacteria enters the lungs – this occurs as a result of illness, respiratory diseases, viral infections, people who have had surgery, old age, malnutrition, alcohol abuse or a weak immune system.
- Viral pneumonia is caused by viruses such as influenza (flu), adenovirus, chickenpox measles, coxsackievirus, cytomegalovirus and respiratory syncytial virus which attack the lungs and multiply.
- Mycoplasma pneumonia is caused by mycoplasmas, tiny microorganisms which have features of bacteria and viruses. These mycoplasmas multiply and spread causing mild pneumonia. It affects people of all ages. It is often associated with a cough that produces mucus and symptoms outside of the lungs.
- Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you inhale food, drink, gastric secretions, saliva, or vomit from the mouth into the lungs. This may be caused by a number of factors such as the disturbance of your normal gage reflux, certain disorders that affects swallowing, disorders of esophagus, old age, anesthesia, coma, dental problems or excessive use of alcohol or drugs. Aspiration pneumonia may develop into a collection of pus in the lungs.
- Atypical pneumonia is caused by certain bacteria and these include Legionella pneumophila, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and Chlamydophila pneumoniae. Pneumonia that comes about as a result of Legionella is quite serious and can even be fatal, while atypical pneumonia that is due to Mycoplasma and Chlamydophila is usually much milder.
- Cytomegalovirus (CMV) forms part of the group of herpes-type viruses that causes infection in the lungs of people with weakened immune systems. This type of pneumonia is common in AIDS patients, people receiving immunosuppressive treatments such as chemotherapy or organ transplant and bone marrow transplant recipients.
- Hospital-acquired pneumonia occurs while staying at hospital for another illness. It tends to be more severe if you are on a mechanical ventilator, have a weak immune system, because of a recent illness or medications, or suffer from old age or alcoholism.
- Community-acquired pneumonia develops from breathing in germs that live in the nose, mouth or throat – particularly occurs while sleeping. It is a common type of pneumonia and affects people who have been not been hospitalized recently.
- Legionnaire’s disease is an acute respiratory infection caused by the bacterium Legionella pneumophila found in water delivery systems and warm, moist air conditioners of large buildings. This type of pneumonia is spread through the respiratory system and most common amongst middle aged and older people.
- Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia is a lung infection caused by the fungus Pneumocystis carinii. Although this type of pneumonia is quite rare in people with healthy immune systems, it affects those with a weakened immune system such as AIDS/HIV patients, individuals who have had organ or bone marrow transplantation, take immunosuppressant medications or premature or malnourished children.
What Causes Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or other organisms. In most cases, the bacteria and viruses that are causing pneumonia cannot be identified. Pneumonia may be transmitted after you have breathed infected air particles into your lungs or during sleep, after you have breathed certain bacteria from your nose and throat into your lungs.
Bacteria such as Streptococcus pneumoniae, Staphylococcus aureus, Haemophilus influenzae, Chlamydophila pneumoniae, Legionella and Mycoplasma pneumonia (walking pneumonia) can cause pneumonia. Viruses such as the influenza A (the flu virus) and parainfluenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, SARS, measles and chickenpox virus can also cause pneumonia. Some forms of fungi and parasites such as Pneumocystis carinii often causes pneumonia in people with compromised immune systems such as those with AIDS.
Aspiration pneumonia occurs when you have breathed food, liquid, gastric juices or vomit into the lungs – this may happen if you have had a stroke, Parkinson’s disease or a seizure which makes it difficult for you to swallow. Pneumonia may also develop during the course of your daily life such as at work, school or gym (community-based pneumonia) or if you are hospitalized or at a nursing home (hospital-based pneumonia).
People age 65 years and older as well as very young children have a higher risk of developing pneumonia because their immune systems are weak or under developed. Additional risk factors include:
The diagnosis of pneumonia is based on your symptoms and a thorough examination as well as a review of your medical history. Your doctor will use a stethoscope to listen to your chest and lungs and certain tests such as a chest x-ray, blood and sputum tests may be ordered. In more severe cases, a lung biopsy and procedures such as a thoracentesis, bronchoscopy and spirometry may be performed.
Pneumonia often presents with flu -like symptoms. The most common symptoms and signs of pneumonia include:
- Cough with a yellowish or greenish mucus
- Occasional bloody sputum
- Shaking chills
- Rapid, shallow breathing and shortness of breath
- Sharp, stabbing pains in the chest often worsened by coughing or breathing in
- Fatigue and overall weakness
- Nausea and vomiting
Symptoms that may occur in other cases of pneumonia include coughing, muscle aches, headaches, loss of appetite, rapid heart beat, skin discoloration (a blueish-purplish tinge), and confusion particularly in older people.
Help for Pneumonia
The treatment of pneumonia generally depends on the cause, its severity and your overall health. Medications such as antibiotics may be prescribed to treat bacterial pneumonia – remember to complete the full course. Antibiotics for viral pneumonia are not very effective. If you have developed aspiration pneumonia, an endotracheal tube which is a breathing tube is inserted into your trachea so that oxygen can be pumped into the lungs.
Suction is also used to clear the airways to remove vomit or chemicals. Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia in children, the elderly, and people who suffer from chronic conditions such as asthma, emphysema, diabetes, cancer or HIV. Pneumococcal vaccine prevents the Streptococcus pneumoniae, flu vaccine prevents the influenza virus and pneumonia, and Hib vaccine prevents Haemophilus influenzae type b.
Natural and holistic treatments such as herbal and homeopathic remedies have proven to be highly effective in providing symptomatic relief for pneumonia and helping the immune system to stay strong. Containing a combination of carefully selected ingredients, these remedies safely support the respiratory system and maintain easy breathing.
Herbs such as Matricaria recutita, and Astragalus membranaceus support the lungs and air passages while also acting as a rejuvenating tonic. Other effective ingredients include Arsen alb. and Phosphorus – to encourage respiratory calm and steady breathing.
More Information on Pneumonia
There are a number of useful things that you can do
to prevent pneumonia and these include:
- Get vaccinated once a year with pneumococcal vaccine
- Eat a healthy diet that contains plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables
- Drink eight glasses of water per day to thin mucus and help to cough it up
- Get lots of bed rest until your temperature returns to normal
- Wash hands thoroughly before eating and preparing food, after blowing your nose, handling pets, going to the bathroom and being outside
- Exercise regularly by going for brisk walks to increase your lung capacity
- Stop smoking because tobacco damages the lungs
- Keep windows open when using cleaning detergents and wear a mask over your mouth and nose to avoid inhaling the fumes
- Practice deep breathing exercises to promote lung functioning
- Use a humidifier to increase air moisture and help with easier breathing