What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a
lung infection that can make you very sick. You may cough, run a fever, and
have a hard time breathing. For most people, pneumonia can be treated at home.
It often clears up in 2 to 3 weeks. But older adults, babies, and people with
other diseases can become very ill. They may need to be in the hospital.
You can get pneumonia in your daily life, such as at school or work. This
is called community-associated pneumonia. You can also get it when you are in a
hospital or nursing home. This is called healthcare-associated pneumonia. It
may be more severe because you already are ill. This topic focuses on pneumonia
you get in your daily life.
What causes pneumonia?
Germs called bacteria or
viruses usually cause pneumonia.
Pneumonia usually starts when you
breathe the germs into your lungs. You may be more likely to get the disease
after having a cold or the
flu. These illnesses make it hard for your lungs to
fight infection, so it is easier to get pneumonia. Having a long-term, or
chronic, disease like
asthma, heart disease, cancer, or
diabetes also makes you more likely to get pneumonia.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms of pneumonia
caused by bacteria usually come on quickly. They may include:
- Cough. You will likely cough up
mucus (sputum) from your lungs. Mucus may be rusty or
green or tinged with blood.
- Fast breathing and
feeling short of breath.
- Shaking and "teeth-chattering" chills.
You may have this only one time or many times.
- Chest pain that
often feels worse when you cough or breathe in.
- Feeling very tired or feeling very weak.
- Nausea and vomiting.
When you have mild symptoms, your doctor may call this
Older adults may have different, fewer, or
milder symptoms. They may not have a fever. Or they may have a cough but not
bring up mucus. The main sign of pneumonia in older adults may be a change in
how well they think. Confusion or
delirium is common. Or, if they already have a lung
disease, that disease may get worse.
Symptoms caused by viruses
are the same as those caused by bacteria. But they may come on slowly and often
are not as obvious or as bad.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
Your doctor will ask
you about your symptoms and do a physical exam. He or she may order a chest
X-ray and a
blood test. This is usually enough for your doctor to
know if you have pneumonia. You may need more tests if you have bad symptoms,
are an older adult, or have other health problems. In general, the sicker you
are, the more tests you will have.