The lung is the main breathing organ. When you draw in air through your nose, it fills up microscopic sacs in your lungs called alveoli, like a balloon. These sacs are specialized to absorb oxygen present in the air you draw in, and exchange it for carbon dioxide from your body. The diseases that affect the lungs make it difficult for you to breathe, without which you cannot survive.
Pneumonia is one such debilitating lung disease. The lung is inflamed by either bacteria or virus and rare parasites. The alveolar sacs are filled with pus and solidify in case of severe chronic disease. Inflammation might be present in both or a single lung, depending upon the severity of the disease.
Deciding the severity of pneumonia depends on risk factors. The cause of lung infection is important because the treatment depends on that. Different organisms cause pneumonia of different severity. The age of the patient is also a risk factor. Infants and children till age two, and geriatrics are more at risk of high severity pneumonia.
Patient’s general health also matters; if they have any other disease, whether they are immune-compromised due to AIDS, cancer, diabetes etc, or an already existing lung or heart disease also predisposes patients to pneumonia. Drug abusers are also at higher risk than normal population.
Pakistani citizens who do not have proper homes are also included in high risk groups. This includes people living on the road side constantly inhaling smoke from vehicles, earthquake victims who recently lost their homes and are now dependent on donation from others. They are more likely to suffer from pneumonia as they can catch cold because of the drop in temperature during winters. Colds and flu often lead to bacterial infection and pneumonia.
The types of pneumonia are classified according to the organism that is causing it.
Bacterial pneumonia is by far the most common. The organism responsible is called streptococcus pneumonia.
Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, is considered more fatal. It is specifically more harmful for the baby in pregnant females and individuals with heart and already existing lung diseases.
Being hospitalized for some other disease is also included as a risk factor. Pneumonia acquired this way is called hospital acquired pneumonia.
No one is a hundred percent immune to pneumonia. The bacteria present in the air can invade anyone with high risk of acquiring the disease. As previously mentioned, the severity of the disease depends on the risk factors; it is determined by the symptoms.
Symptoms can be mild to severe. Mild symptoms look like a common cold or flu but last much longer. It includes high grade fever accompanied by sweating and chills. Coughing occurs with expulsion of phlegm. Most importantly, there is difficulty in breathing. There is chest pain, shortness of breath and it requires more effort, leaving the patient feeling fatigued. It is also sometimes accompanied by nausea, vomiting and diarrhea.
Newborns and infants are often diagnosed a little late in the course of the disease as they do not show symptoms during mild disease. Fever, cough and chest congestion appear later. They may appear restless and dull, display lack of energy and refuse feed. Older people, on the other hand, may have lower body temperature. They may show sudden alteration in mental awareness.
If you are having any of the symptoms specifically chest congestion, coughing up pus with persistent fever, you should see your doctor. People at higher risk of acquiring the disease should see the doctor immediately as it is a medical emergency as it may rapidly become a life threatening situation.
Although pneumonia can be cured by medication, people in high risk groups may face certain complications of the disease which require special attention. Sometimes bacteria escape from the alveolar sacs into the blood stream, and then into other organs. There it can cause organ failure. Often a pus filled cavity forms in the lung called lung abscess. It is treated with antibiotics.
Sometimes surgery or drainage with a long needle is required to remove the pus. Similarly, fluids can get accumulated around the membrane that surrounds the lungs called pleural effusion. It is drained in a similar way. Patients are often hospitalized and put on a ventilator if there is too much difficulty in breathing.
If you experience symptoms, you might want to visit your doctor; he may refer you to a lung specialist if your disease is severe. Make sure you take your record of symptoms and fever over the past days. You should take a family member or friend along. Lastly, do not hesitate to ask your doctor any questions about your disease.
On your visit, you will be examined with a stethoscope for congestive sounds in the chest. Chest x-ray will be done to know the extent and location of the infection. Blood and sputum tests are done to know the cause of the infection.
Your doctor will select treatment for you on basis of the tests and examination he has carried out. Antibiotics are taken to combat the bacteria in your lungs. Anti-pyretic medications are given for fever. Your doctor may also hospitalize you and treat you with nebulization.
Your symptoms may reduce or disappear over the course of your medication but you should not stop before the completion of the course. Although symptoms disappear but people still feel tired and fatigued. In order to recover completely and quickly, get plenty of rest. Do not start work or studying as soon as you get a little better; rather wait till the coughing completely stops. Take medication regularly and punctually as prescribed. Keep yourself hydrated.
In order to prevent pneumonia, make sure you are vaccinated against some types of pneumonia (for which vaccines are available). Get your infants and children vaccinated as well. Practice good hygiene. Make it a habit to keep your hands clean. Use quality anti-bacterial soap. Avoid smoking and eat healthy to keep your immune system strong.