Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in children worldwide, killing an estimated 1.1 million children under the age of five every year – more than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. Fortunately, many forms of pneumonia can be prevented by taking relatively simple precautions, such as by getting an annual flu shot (as flu often leads to pneumonia) or frequently washing your hands. Most cases of pneumonia are mild, and many treatments are available. Because pneumonia is not a single disease, but rather an infection in one or both of the lungs that can be the result of more than 30 different causes, effective treatment largely depends on its specific cause, how severe the symptoms are, and the patient’s age and overall health.
- Severe coughing (which may produce a greenish, yellow, or even bloody mucus)
- Fever (which may be mild or high)
- Shortness of breath (which may only occur when they climb stairs)
Patients may also experience:
- Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when they breathe deeply or cough
- Excessive sweating or clammy skin
- Loss of appetite
- Low energy and fatigue
The symptoms can also vary, depending on the specific cause of the pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia may produce a temperature as high as 105 degrees F and causes profuse sweating, and rapidly increased breathing and pulse rate. The lips and nail beds may take on a bluish color due to a lack of oxygen in the blood, and the patient’s mental state may become confused or delirious. Viral pneumonia, on the other hand, presents with influenza symptoms: fever, a dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness. Within 12 to 36 hours, it becomes more difficult for the patient to breathe, and the cough becomes worse, producing a small amount of mucus. There is a high fever, and there may be blueness of the lips.
If you suspect that your child may be experiencing the symptoms of pneumonia, it is important to get them medical attention as soon as possible. Bacterial pneumonia require prescription oral antibiotics, but can then usually be treated at home by following these simple steps:
- Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm.
- Get lots of rest. Have someone else do household chores.
- Do not take cough medicines without first talking to your doctor. Cough medicines may make it harder for your body to cough up the extra sputum.
- Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen or naproxen), or acetaminophen. DO NOT give aspirin to children.
It is important to note that typical antibiotics will not work for viral pneumonia, which is one of the reasons professional diagnosis in important. In the case of viral pneumonia, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication.
In some cases, pneumonia may become so severe that it requires hospital treatment, which will include intravenous fluids and antibiotics, oxygen therapy, and possibly breathing treatments. You are more likely to be admitted to the hospital if you have particularly severe symptoms, are suffering from other serious medical problem; have been taking antibiotics at home and are not getting better, are getting dehydrated, or are unable to tolerate oral medication.
Pneumonia tends to be more serious for infants and young children, as well as in adults aged 65 years or older), but can usually be prevented by maintaining up to date immunization against Hib, pneumococcus, flu, measles and whooping cough (pertussis). Children, in particular, have better natural defenses against the disease if they if they receive adequate nutrition, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, this also helps to reduce the length of the illness if a child does become ill. Additionally, several environmental factors, such as indoor air pollution (including second hand smoke), can increase the risk that a child may fall ill with pneumonia. Finally, children and adults who have weakened immune systems, such as those infected with HIV, may require daily antibiotic treatments to decrease their risk of contracting pneumonia.