Pneumonia is not a specific disease; this is a general term used by pathologists for several types of pneumonia. The tissue swells, turns red and hurts, like any other sore body tissue. Pneumonia is usually a result of infection – for example, of some kind of bacteria or virus – but it can also be caused by chemical damage from inhaled liquids and poisonous gas, e.g. chlorine. Pneumonia can be a small complication as a result of infection of the upper respiratory tract, but also a life-threatening illness. The course of pneumonia, her weight and the outcome depends partly on the cause, partly on the general health of the person, and partly on other factors; viral pneumonia, for example, do not respond to antibiotic treatment.
If your doctor has told you that you suffer from “both sides” of pneumonia, it means that inflammation affected both lungs. If pneumonia was caused by a microbe-like bacterium, which belongs to the genus Mycoplasma, perhaps they told you that you suffer from “atypical” pneumonia. “Bronchopneumonia” is the focal inflammation of one or both lungs, while “lobar” pneumonia involves the entire surface of one or more lobes (segments) lung.
There is not a single symptom that is typical. However, you have to think about the possibility of pneumonia if someone in your family is already suffering from a disease of the respiratory tract, e.g. with cough or fever but loses his breath while resting, i.e. breathlessness did not occur because of some physical activity. Other symptoms, to which you need to pay attention, are chills, sweating, chest pain, bluish discoloration of the skin (cyanosis), blood in the sputum, as well as confusion or raving. It is obvious that the symptoms are heavier is the bigger area of the lungs is affected.
The speed of the onset of the symptoms and their proportional to the severity may very depending on the cause of infection. A particularly virulent strain of influenza virus can kill the old, weak person within 24 hours. In healthy young adults pneumonia, which was created as a result of infection by relatively non-hazardous germs, can cause symptoms that are no worse than most ordinary symptoms of colds.
One reason for the relatively high percentage of deaths in patients with pneumonia is that the pneumonia is often the final complication of some other serious illnesses. Pneumonia can easily succumb to anyone whose resistance is already weakened; therefore, in the case of decompensation of heart, cancer, heart attack or chronic bronchitis as a terminal illness, pneumonia is often the immediate cause of death. Lung infection is practically inevitable with paralyzed people and people who are not fully conscious, and because the natural reflex of coughing, which cleans the lungs of mucus and residual liquid, is rather weakened or absent in such cases.
You are likely to get sick from pneumonia (in a serious form) if you belong to any of these categories: you are very young (children up to 2 years) or very old (over 75 years); you are suffering from chronic respiratory diseases, e.g. asthma, or other chronic diseases, e.g. rheumatoid arthritis or renal failure, which reduces the resistance to infection of your body; you smoke or drink a lot. People who are treated with immunosuppressive agents and anti-inflammatory, especially corticosteroids, for a long time are very sensitive, too. These drugs weaken the body’s natural defenses against microbs.
Since pneumonia is so different, it is difficult to generally speak of dangers. In the elderly, the weak and fainting people, death is the main danger. Any type of pneumonia may lead to pleurisy or empyema. The most dangerous kind of pneumonia is the one caused by viruses, e.g. influenza virus, that do not respond to antibiotics. It is obvious that with age and with a chronic disease, even a mild form of pneumonia will decrease the chances of survival.
What to do?
Contact your doctor immediately if you suspect that you have pneumonia – if you lose your breath when lying down, if you feel a pain in your chest while breathing or if you’re coughing up sputum streaked with blood. Your doctor will listen to the lungs with a stethoscope, percuss your chest and ask when the symptoms appeared and how much you smoke or drink. You may already be able to set a definitive diagnosis of pneumonia – and even types of pneumonia. Further tests may be required, such as x-ray of the lungs and the laboratory testing of blood and sputum samples.
As the patient’s condition may deteriorate significantly in a few hours, hospitalization is often recommended. The best treatment in some cases is very simple – heat, antitussive agents and antibiotics; however, a careful professional supervision and observation are very much important in the initial stages of the disease, especially if there is doubt about the true nature and extent of inflammation and if the patient’s general health is bad.
Antibiotics can be administered in tablet or capsule, or – in severe cases – be administered by injection. There is a large selection of antibiotics, but in your case the doctor will choose an antibiotic considering the type of pathogen based on the medical findings. Laboratory tests of blood and mucus will give the necessary information on the micro-organism (or microorganisms) that caused the infection. The doctor will have to find out whether you may be allergic to some antibiotics or poorly respond to them.
Analgesics, e.g. aspirin, ease chest pain. If you have shortness of breath and cyanosis, you probably lack oxygen, and you will get a face mask or tube that you hold in your mouth. If, despite all these measures, pulmonary symptoms persist, the doctor will undoubtedly send you for further tests, especially bronchoscopy to exclude the possibility of lung cancer.
Healthy young person must fully recover from pneumonia in two to three weeks. Even in cases of viral pneumonia, possibility of severe complications are minimal since the antibiotics, even though they do not suppress a primary infection, successful eliminate the risk of secondary bacterial infection. On the other hand, recovery may take several months, and the disease may lead to death with heavy smokers or people who are sensitive for some other reasons.