Types of Pneumonia

If you get pneumonia, it means you have an infection in your lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, and other germs. Learning the type you have helps your doctor suggest a treatment.

Doctors describe the type of pneumonia you have based on where you came down with your infection. You may hear health pros use these terms:

Hospital-acquired pneumonia. You catch this type during a stay in a hospital. It can be serious because the bacteria causing the pneumonia can be resistant to antibiotics.

You're more likely to get this type if:

  • You're on a breathing machine
  • You can't cough strongly enough to clear your lungs
  • You have a tracheostomy (trach) tube to help you breathe
  • Your immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- is weak from a disease or treatment

Community-acquired pneumonia. It's a fancy way of saying you got infected somewhere other than a hospital or long-term care facility. Community-acquired pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Vaccines can help protect against the flu virus and certain bacteria that can also cause pneumonia.

Community-acquired pneumonia also includes aspiration pneumonia, which you get if you breathe food, fluid, or vomit into your lungs. It's more likely to happen if you have problems swallowing or coughing. If you can't cough up the material you took in, bacteria can multiply in your lungs.

Doctors also break down the kinds of pneumonia by the causes of the disease: bacteria, viruses, or fungi.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacteria cause most cases of community-acquired pneumonia in adults.

You can catch pneumonia when someone who is infected coughs or sneezes. Bacteria-filled droplets get into the air, where you can breathe them into your nose or mouth.

If you have a weakened immune system, your chances of getting pneumonia are greater. You're also more likely to get it if you have a condition like asthma, emphysema, or heart disease.

You may notice symptoms like:

Antibiotics treat bacterial pneumonia. Your doctor might do tests to find the type of bacteria that's causing your infection so you can get the right one. This would more likely happen with hospital-acquired pneumonia.

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If you have community-acquired pneumonia, antibiotics that you take by mouth are usually enough to treat the infection. If your symptoms are severe, you may need to go to the hospital and get treated with:

  • Antibiotics and fluids that your doctor puts in your veins though an IV
  • Oxygen
  • Breathing treatments

Walking pneumonia is a less severe form of bacterial pneumonia. Sometimes doctors call it "atypical" pneumonia.

Symptoms can be so mild that you don't know you have it. You may feel well enough that you're able to go about your regular activities, which is where the "walking" in the name comes from.

Walking pneumonia can feel like a bad cold, with symptoms like:

Antibiotics treat the infection. You're likely to start to feel better in 3 to 5 days, but the cough can last for a few weeks.

Viral Pneumonia

Viruses are the second most common cause of pneumonia. Many different ones cause the disease, including some of the same viruses that bring on colds and flu.

The symptoms of viral pneumonia are similar to the flu, including:

These symptoms can be mild to severe.

Antibiotics won't treat viral pneumonia, because they only work on bacteria. Treatment usually depends on the kind of symptoms you have. For example, if you have asthma or emphysema, you may need treatment to help with breathing.

Drink extra fluids to help loosen mucus in your chest. To ease pain and bring down a fever, your doctor may suggest you try acetaminophen or a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like ibuprofen. He may also recommend an antiviral drug or a medication to help you breathe easier.

Fungal Pneumonia

Fungi are a less common cause of pneumonia. You're not likely to get fungal pneumonia if you're healthy. But you have a higher chance of catching it if your immune system is weakened from:

You get fungal pneumonia by breathing in tiny particles called fungal spores. People in certain jobs are more likely to come into contact with them, such as:

  • Farmers who work around bird, bat, or rodent droppings
  • Landscapers and gardeners who work with the soil
  • Members of the military or construction workers who are around a lot of dust

Symptoms of fungal pneumonia are similar to other types, including:

  • Fever
  • Cough

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 13, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

American Lung Association: "Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia," "What Causes Pneumonia?" "What is Walking Pneumonia?"

CDC: "Fungal pneumonia: a silent epidemic," "Mycoplasma Pneumonia: Causes and How It Spreads," "Ventilator-Associated Pneumonia."

Cleveland Clinic: "Pneumonia: Atypical (Walking) Pneumonia," "Pneumonia: Overview."

Craig Hospital: "Hospital Acquired Pneumonia (HAP) Prevention."

Hopkins Medicine: "Pneumonia."

Mayo Clinic: "Pneumonia: Diagnosis & Treatment," "Pneumonia: Symptoms & Causes," "Walking pneumonia: What does it mean?"

Medscape: "Bacterial Pneumonia," "Fungal Pneumonia Overview of Fungal Pneumonia," "Viral Pneumonia."

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Pneumonia."

Northwestern Medicine: "What is Aspiration Pneumonia?"

UpToDate: "Patient education: Pneumonia in adults (Beyond the Basics)."

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