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What Parents Need to Know about Pneumonia

January 9, 2018

What Parents Need to Know about PneumoniaIt’s that time of year when parents feel like they’re always dodging one illness or another. One of the best things you can do for your kids is to educate yourself about the largest risks, how to protect against them, and what to do if they appear in your home. With this goal in mind, our board-certified pediatricians and pediatric nurse practitioner at Children’s Wellness Center is here to offer a crash-course on everything parents need to know about one of the most important illnesses to treat: pneumonia.

It may be fairly common, but pneumonia needs to be taken seriously. According to the World Health Organization, pneumonia and respiratory illnesses are the leading causes of death for kids around the world from birth to age 5, so it’s important to know the signs and seek treatment if they arise. Here are the details parents need to know:

What Causes Pneumonia

Pneumonia is not a specific bacteria or virus – it’s an infection of the lungs that can be caused by a number of possibilities. In many cases, a child gets a viral upper respiratory infection (like RSV or the flu) which spreads to the lungs. This same process can happen with bacteria as well, which means that some cases of pneumonia are viral and others are bacterial. For some kids, a viral infection weakens their immune system which allows a bacterial infection to develop in their lungs.

Kids who are at a higher risk for pneumonia include those with chronic illnesses that affect their immune system (or those who take immune-suppressing medicine). Kids with abnormalities in their lungs or airways such as asthma also have a higher risk of pneumonia.

Symptoms of Pneumonia in Kids

Keep an eye out for the follow symptoms which could signal pneumonia:

  • Severe coughing
  • Fever
  • Chills or shaking
  • Stomach ache (when accompanied by a significant cough)
  • Shortness of breath (which may only happen with exercise)
  • Sharp chest pains that get worse when they cough or breathe deeply
  • Headaches
  • Wheezing
  • Clammy skin
  • Loss of appetite
  • Lethargy and fatigue
  • Confusion

How to Treat Pneumonia

It can be difficult to determine what illness your child has, but if you suspect that your child has pneumonia, schedule an appointment with a board-certified pediatrician. It’s important to start treating it early and to find out if it’s a bacterial or viral infection so you can treat it correctly. Depending on your child’s unique case, our board-certified pediatricians or our nurse practitioner may prescribe antibiotics or antiviral medication. If your child does receive a prescription, be sure to finish the full course as recommended.

Other than prescription medication, simply let your child rest, give them plenty of fluids, and if necessary (and if recommended by your pediatrician), use ibuprofen or naproxen to lower a fever. Aspirin is not safe for kids, so don’t use it to treat your child’s illness. In severe cases, pneumonia can require hospitalization. If your child’s symptoms worsen, call your pediatrician or your after-hours clinic to find out if you need to take them to the hospital.

How to Prevent Pneumonia

Pneumonia isn’t 100% preventable, but there are steps you can take to lower your child’s risk:

  • Keep all your child’s vaccines up-to-date, including vaccines against the flu, pneumococcus, Hib, measles, and whooping cough, because any of these illnesses can lead to pneumonia.
  • Take steps to keep your child in strong health by maintaining good nutrition, exercise, and well child exams.
  • Protect your child from people who seem to be sick (when possible), and wash his/her hands often.
  • If your child has asthma, keep it well-controlled and keep up with any prescribed daily medications.
  • Avoid air pollution (including secondhand smoke) as much as possible.

While pneumonia can be a very serious illness, most kids recover from it very well and are back to being as playful and healthy as ever in no time – especially when their parents have all the information you now have available. Start by taking preventative measures to keep your child healthy, and keep this blog on hand if you need to remember the symptoms in the future. To keep your family strong throughout flu season and beyond, schedule an appointment at Children’s Wellness Center. Plus, for more kids’ health tips, follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

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