What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia, or also known as pneumonia, is an infection of the lungs, caused by different germs such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that spread their microorganisms inside the alveoli.

Prognosis of the disease

Most people with mycoplasma or Chlamydophila pneumonia recover with appropriate antibiotic therapy.

Another situation is Legionella pneumonia, which can be severe and can cause problems, especially in patients with kidney failure, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or a weakened immune system. Pneumonia is also a serious symptom in cases of Covid-19, as it means that the virus infection has spread to the lungs, especially if it develops into bilateral pneumonia, affecting both lungs.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Pneumonia causes inflammation with lung damage, with highly variable symptoms.

In typical pneumonia there is cough with purulent expectoration, sometimes with chest pain and fever with chills.

In the so-called atypical pneumonia, the symptoms are less alarming:

  • Moderate fever.
  • General malaise.
  • Muscle and joint pain.
  • Tiredness and fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Dry cough without expectoration.
  • Chest pain less intense.

Medical tests for pneumonia

People who may have pneumonia should undergo a complete medical evaluation. To diagnose with certainty whether the patient has pneumonia, bronchitis, or another respiratory infection, a chest x-ray or even a chest CT scan may be needed.

Depending on the severity of the disease, other studies may be done, such as:

  • Complete blood count (CBC).
  • Blood tests to identify the specific bacteria.
  • Bronchoscopy (rarely needed).
  • CT scan of the chest.
  • Measurement of oxygen and carbon dioxide levels in the blood (arterial blood gases).
  • Nose or throat swab to identify the bacteria.
  • Blood culture.
  • Open lung biopsy (performed only in cases of very severe disease when the diagnosis cannot be made by other sources).
  • Sputum culture to identify the specific bacteria.
  • Urine test to look for Legionella bacteria.

What are the causes of pneumonia?

Pneumonia is caused by various germs, such as bacteria, viruses and fungi that spread their microorganisms. They do so through the inside of the alveoli (the branches in which the exchange of oxygen between the inspired air and the blood takes place inside the lungs), the nose, the pharynx or the blood.

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The most common cause is infection by the bacterium Streptococcus pneumonia. Other origins are:

  • Bacteria: Haemophilus influenza and Straphylococcus aureus.
  • Viruses: Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
  • Influenza type A.
  • Influenza type B.
  • Fungal pneumonia.
  • Aspiration pneumonia: caused by inhaling something harmful, such as smoke, chemicals, vomit or a foreign object.
  • Covid-19. A study by the Spanish Society of Pneumology and Thoracic Surgery (SEPAR) validated the first Covid-19 prognostic scale in Spain.

People at greatest risk of contracting pneumonia are infants, older people, smokers, people with compromised immune systems (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or people who have recently had the flu) and people with other chronic health problems, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis or heart disease.

Can it be prevented?

Although most cases of pneumonia are bacterial in nature and are not contagious, the patient can reduce the risk of spread by maintaining good hygiene habits. Some recommendations to avoid this pathology are:

  • Wash your hands before preparing and consuming food, after blowing your nose, after being in the bathroom, changing a diaper or coming in contact with an affected patient.
  • Avoid smoking and reduce alcohol consumption.
  • People at higher risk of infection are recommended to be vaccinated against pneumococcus and influenza.
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, discarding tissues immediately (germs can survive for hours after leaving your body).

Treatments for pneumonia

The severity and treatment of this disease will be determined by:

  • The extent of the affected lung.
  • The type of germ that caused it.
  • age
  • Previous medical history.

Milder cases of pneumonia can be treated at home with plenty of rest and fluids, and by taking antibiotics, if prescribed by a specialist. In severe cases, the patient may need to be hospitalized and treated by specialists.

Which specialist treats you?

Each case is individual but the most indicated specialist to treat this pathology is a pulmonologist.