What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death among children under five, with an estimated 2,400 children deaths per day. The condition is also responsible for 7 percent of all deaths in adults (x). The American Lung Association estimates that there are over 30 different causes of pneumonia (x).
Pneumonia is an inflammatory condition caused by a bacterial, viral or fungal infection, affecting primarily the alveoli in the lungs. The alveoli are the small air sacks in the lungs where the exchange of oxygen in the blood takes place. These air sacs fill with fluid or pus, making it difficult for oxygen to reach the blood. This results in a cough with phlegm or pus, difficulty breathing, fever and chills. Pneumonia can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. This depends on several factors like age, medical history and strength of the immune system. It is more severe in infants, young children, individuals older than 65 and those with weak immune systems (x).
The signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary from mild to severe depending on factors like overall health and the germ causing the infection. Mild signs and symptoms are similar to those of the flu and last longer. Some of the symptoms include fatigue, fever, nausea, difficulty breathing, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. These symptoms may vary due to other underlying conditions or the type of pneumonia.
Types of Pneumonia
This type of pneumonia is caused by different viruses like the flu and accounts for about one-third of all cases. Individuals with viral pneumonia are more prone to bacterial pneumonia. An individual may develop viral pneumonia by sneezing, coughing or interacting with an object contaminated by an infected person. The symptoms of viral pneumonia include chills, fever, stuffy nose, headache, muscle pain and dry cough, which can get worse and cause mucus (x).
Fungi are not a common cause of pneumonia. A healthy person is unlikely to get fungal anemia unless they have a weak immune system as a result of chemotherapy, an organ transplant, HIV and medications that treat autoimmune diseases. Fungal pneumonia develops when people inhale tiny particles called fungal spores, hence it can affect people in jobs like construction and landscaping where they interact with a lot of dust. Symptoms of fungal pneumonia are fever and cough (x).
This is the most common type of bacterial pneumonia. Pneumococcal pneumonia results from bacteria that live in the upper respiratory tract. It can easily be spread through coughing. Some of its symptoms include chest pain, fever, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and excessive sweating. Pneumococcal pneumonia can be caused by smoking, asthma, diabetes and chronic health conditions like COPD (x). Protection against pneumococcal pneumonia can be done by vaccination.
Walking pneumonia is a non-medical term used to describe mild cases of pneumonia or pneumonia that is not severe enough for hospitalization. The symptoms are so mild that an individual feels there is no need to stay home but instead walks around (x). Walking pneumonia spreads like any other typical pneumonia when an infected person sneezes or coughs. Walking pneumonia can be treated by using antibiotics if the cause is bacteria (x).
Bronchitis vs. Pneumonia
Pneumonia and bronchitis are both infections that affect the airways. Their signs and symptoms are similar and often blur into each other. However, there are several differences.
Depending on the location, bronchitis occurs in the bronchial tubes, which are responsible for getting air in and out of the lungs while pneumonia occurs in the air sacs in the lungs.
Unlike pneumonia, most cases of bronchitis are as a result of viruses that cause flu and common colds. Pneumonia is mainly caused by bacteria though fungi and viruses can be a cause.
The most common symptom of bronchitis is a cough that occurs in spells with clear or light-colored mucus. Other symptoms include fatigue, low fever and shortness of breath. The infection can last up to 10 weeks, but the cough can prolong.
Pneumonia symptoms can be relieved by using antibiotics, but they might be ineffective for cases of bronchitis because it’s almost always viral.
In more severe cases of pneumonia, where a large portion of the lung is affected, may lead to difficulties when breathing. A person becomes “air hungry” and doesn’t get enough oxygen.
In most cases, pneumonia develops on its own unrelated to bronchitis. However, bacterial infections can be related to bronchitis.
The main symptoms of pneumonia are the following (x). They may develop gradually over a few days or may progress faster.
- Cough that may produce a brown, thick yellow, green or blood-stained phlegm (mucus). The cough can also be dry.
- Fatigue which can sometimes be accompanied by muscle aches.
- Fever which might cause profuse sweating and shivering.
- Difficulty breathing. An individual might experience rapid and shallow breathing.
- Nausea, loss of appetite or upset stomach. Infants may vomit, have difficulties eating or drinking or lack energy.
- Chest pain that gets worse when taking a deep breath, moving around or coughing. Also referred to as pleuritic pain. The pains are caused by inflammation of the membranes that line the lungs.
- Decreased body temperature. This is mainly in an individual with weakened immune systems or those above 65 years whereby temperature drops lower than normal body temperature.
- Confusion, especially in older adults.
- Dusky skin color or cyanosis due to poorly oxygenated blood.
- Other symptoms that result due to a fever like having headaches, stomach aches and chills.
- Infected infants may have severe complications like unconsciousness, difficulties drinking, hypothermia and convulsions.
Causes of Pneumonia
Pneumonia results from several infectious agents and develops when the lungs fill up with pus, fluid and mucus, making it difficult to inhale, get enough oxygen and control coughing. The disease mostly affects the alveoli, sacks that allow for an individual to breathe properly (x).
The following are the primary causes of pneumonia:
Airborne Bacteria and Viruses
This is where a person inhales the infection. An infected person can cough or sneeze then another person inhales the infected particles. This is more likely in poorly ventilated rooms or spaces, or people in close proximity with each other. Streptococcus pneumonia is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in infants and young ones. Viruses are the leading cause in children under five years. Viral pneumonia has mild symptoms but can be severe at times (x).
Fungi from animal dropping or the soil can cause pneumonia when a person inhales large quantities of the organisms. Some fungi found in soil that can cause pneumonia are histoplasmosis, coccidioidomycosis and Cryptococcus. Fungi can also cause pneumonia in an individual with a weak immune system or chronic conditions. Pneumocystis pneumonia is a severe fungal infection that manifests in people with weak immune systems as a result of HIV/AIDS or prolonged use of medications that suppress the immune system (x).
It exposes the respiratory tract to a certain toxic chemical, which results in a weak immune system (x). This also applies to passive smokers.
Diagnosing pneumonia can be difficult due to the varying symptoms. Diagnosing involves identifying the cause of the disease. This can be done by:
- Medical history: The doctor asks questions about a patient’s signs and symptoms to know when and how they began to try and find if they were caused by a virus, bacteria or fungi.
- Physical exam: The doctor listens to a patient’s lungs using a stethoscope. If the lungs are infected, there will be a crackling sound.
- Diagnostic tests: These may include a sputum test, chest X-ray, blood tests and pulse oximetry that measure the level of oxygen in the blood.
Pneumonia Remedies and Supplements
Taking warm peppermint tea may be beneficial in soothing a scratchy throat. According to a study on Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, peppermint can have a soothing effect on the throat of individual experiencing upper respiratory tract infections. Peppermint may ease the pain and thin the mucus and inflammation that results from pneumonia. As a dietary supplement, take 700 mg (about 1/3 tsp) of peppermint extract powder once or twice daily, or as directed by a physician. Best taken with meals.
Turmeric can be helpful when dealing with chest pain. Chest pain mainly results from a persistent cough. Warm tea made from turmeric root can deal with the cough and reduce the pain. Turmeric root has a natural anti-inflammatory effect on the body. Curcumin turmeric extract powder is to be taken in one dose of 1,000 mg or less per day, depending on the intended effect. It should be taken along with water or a meal. Roughly, 1,000 mg for this product is equal to less than ½ tsp, or a little more than 3/8 tsp.
Ginger is also important in reducing pain with its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. It’s very efficient for chest pain. As a dietary supplement, take 1,000 milligrams (about ½ tsp) of ginger root extract powder once daily, or as directed by a physician. To avoid any heartburn, take with at least 8 ounces of water.
Taking warm water can work miracles for people who don’t take peppermint tea. This will help them stay hydrated while keeping them warm inside. Taking a bowl of hot soup can also replenish vital fluids in the body while helping to keep warm. Take at least 8 cups of water or fluid per day. This helps to thin the mucus and keep the fever down.
- Get enough rest: Enough rest helps the body get enough time to heal and recuperate properly. Enough rest also helps to prevent relapse.
- Saltwater gargle: This can help get rid of a reasonable amount of mucus in the throat and reduce irritation. Gargling can also be done with just water for 30 seconds and then spit it out. The process should be repeated for three times daily.
- Don’t smoke: Smoking may damage the lungs natural defense against respiratory infections.
- Practicing good hygiene: Like washing hands regularly can protect against respiratory infections like pneumonia.
The Bottom Line
Pneumonia is a contagious and sometimes severe infection of the lungs that results from viruses, bacteria and other microorganisms. Symptoms include fatigue, shortness of breath, fever, chest pains and coughing. Protection against pneumonia can be done by boosting the immune system by taking a healthy diet with a supplement like a peppermint, ginger and turmeric. Pneumonia can also be prevented by treating respiratory illnesses, breastfeeding infants, minimizing exposure to pollutants and toxic substances and controlling symptoms of a fever.