What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is the inflammation of one or both lungs, usually caused by a bacterial infection; the most common form being Streptococcus pneumoniae. The inflammation causes the tiny air sacs (Alveoli) inside your lungs to fill with fluid making it harder for the lungs to work properly. Your body sends white blood cells to your lungs to fight the infection, and whilst this helps kill the germs it can also make it harder for your lungs to pass oxygen into your bloodstream.
Who’s at risk?
Pneumonia can affect people of any age, however, there are certain groups of people who are more at risk; these include:
- Babies and young children
- Elderly people
- People who smoke
- People with other health conditions, such as asthma or heart conditions.
- People with a weakened immune system; for example, following a recent illness or after taking immunosuppressive medication.
If you have pneumonia, you will feel unwell and experience symptoms that are similar to flu or a chest infection. Symptoms of pneumonia may develop suddenly over 24 to 48 hours or slowly over several days. Symptoms include:
- Coughing; this may be dry or produce thick yellowish-green or blood-stained mucus (phlegm)
- Difficulty breathing ; this may be rapid, laborious, or leave you feeling out of breath even at rest.
- A rapid heartbeat
- Sweating and shivering
- Loss of appetite
- Chest pain, which worsens when breathing or coughing.
Advice – You should see your GP if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, and seek urgent medical attention if you’re experiencing severe symptoms such as rapid breathing, chest pain or confusion.
Your GP can usually diagnose pneumonia based on your symptoms and by examining your chest listening for crackling or rattling sounds. Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose as it shares symptoms with other conditions such as the common cold or asthma. Further investigations, such as a chest X-ray, may be required to help diagnosis.
The main treatment for pneumonia is antibiotics, along with rest and drinking plenty of water. Pneumonia isn’t usually contagious, so it is safe to be around others, however people with a weakened immune system should avoid close contact with a person who has pneumonia until they recover.
You can reduce the risk of pneumonia by:
- Having a good standard of hygiene – cover your mouth and nose when you sneeze, throw away tissues immediately, and wash your hands regularly
- Practice a healthy lifestyle – stop smoking, do not drink too excessively, and maintain a healthy diet
- Consider vaccinations – if you are at risk consider getting the pneumococcal and/or flu vaccine.