Bacterial Pneumonia Overview
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. People with pneumonia usually complain about coughing, fever, shortness of breath, and chest pain.
- Your body's immune system usually keeps bacteria from infecting your lungs. In pneumonia, bacteria reproduce in your lungs, while your body tries to fight off the infection. This response to bacterial invaders is called inflammation.
- When the inflammation occurs in the alveoli (microscopic air sacs in the lungs), they fill with fluid. Your lungs become less elastic and cannot take oxygen into the blood, or remove carbon dioxide from the blood, as efficiently as usual.When the alveoli don't work efficiently, your lungs have to work harder to satisfy your body's need for oxygen. This causes the feeling of being short of breath, which is one of the most common symptoms of pneumonia. Inflammation causes many of the other symptoms, including fever and chest pain.
- Pneumonia can be very serious, because it directly interferes with your body's ability to exchange carbon dioxide and oxygen.
- Pneumonia is different in this way from acute bronchitis, which is another disease that can cause fever, cough, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Bronchitis is caused by inflammation in the air passages (called bronchi) leading to the alveoli, not the alveoli themselves. Sometimes it is very difficult, even for a doctor, to tell pneumonia and bronchitis apart. The symptoms and physical examination can be identical. Sometimes a chest X-ray is the only way to tell the two apart.
Bacterial Pneumonia Causes
- Most pneumonia is caused by bacteria or a virus. Pneumonia from any cause can occur at any age, but people in certain age groups are at higher risk for certain types of pneumonia.
- The most common cause of bacterial pneumonia is Streptococcus pneumoniae.Haemophilus influenzae, Chlamydia trachomatis, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, and Legionella pneumophila are some other major bacteria that cause pneumonia.
- If you inhale toxic materials, you can injure your lungs and cause chemical pneumonia.
- Fungus also can cause pneumonia. In certain areas of the United States, specific fungi are well known. Coccidioidomycosis causes a pneumonia called "San Joaquin fever" or "Valley fever" in the desert regions of California. Histoplasmosis and blastomycosis cause pneumonias in the Ohio and Mississippi river valleys.
- The most common way you catch pneumonia is to breathe infected air droplets from someone who has pneumonia. Another cause is an improperly cleaned air conditioner. Yet another source of infection in your lungs is spread by an infection from somewhere else in your body, such as your kidney. Your risk of catching pneumonia is determined by the specific bacteria, virus, or fungus, the number of organisms you inhale, and your body's ability to fight infections.
- You do not catch pneumonia by not dressing properly for cold weather or by being caught in the rain.