Pneumonia is usually caused by an infection; you can find general information on this disease in pneumonia article. In children, pneumonia is most commonly caused by a viral infection that occurs first in the upper respiratory tract. The infection causes a focal lung inflammation (sometimes called “bronchopneumonia”), usually in the lower parts of both lungs.
Bronchopneumonia can also develop as a result of measles or whooping cough. Children who suffer from cystic fibrosis are also prone to seizures of strong bronchopneumonia, and the disease can be caused by inhaled foreign body that has entered the lungs.
Some older children are suffering from so-called lobar pneumonia – inflammation of one or more lobes, caused by bacteria (pneumococcus).
Bronchopneumonia in children begins with a cold that lasts two to three days. Then the temperature rises to about 38 °C, and dry coughs develops. A child begins to breathe quickly, and in some cases a ”plying” in the chest can be heard. In very severe cases, the child may have bluish discolouration (cyanosis) due to difficult breathing.
Lobar pneumonia begins quite differently. A child doesn’t have a cold, but the temperature suddenly rises to about 40 °C. Breathing is accelerated and dry cough occurs. Pleuritis with chest pain can also develop.
Pneumonia affect one child out of 300 annually. Bronchopneumonia is much more frequent than lobar pneumonia, but it is still rather rare, and develops only in some upper respiratory tract infections.
High temperature caused by pneumonia may, in some cases, cause febrile cramps (see spasms in children). Very rarely, the inflammatory areas of the lungs are gradually replaced by fibrosis tissue which, if enlarged, can cause bronchiectasis. Pneumonia in children rarely causes death.
What to do?
If a child gets high temperature and starts breathing hard, call a doctor. The case is urgent if the child is less than six months old.
Most of these cases can be treated at home. Only very difficult cases are received in the hospital.
Self-help: if a doctor decide that a child shoud to be treated at home, you may apply several ways to relieve the symptoms and accelerate recovery. High temperature is reduced by aspirin and by refreshing the body with lukewarm water. Give your child plenty of fluids (for drinking) and make sure he’s resting as much as possible.
Professional help: child’s resistance to infections contributes most to the healing. Antibiotics work on bacteria, but not on viruses that cause most cases of bronchopneumonia. Antibiotics are given against lobar pneumonia and when the doctor is not sure whether it is viral or bacterial infection. Antibiotics are usually taken orally (if the infection is not very strong). A healthy baby will almost always be completely recovered from pneumonia – usually after about a week.