Pneumonia is an infection of tissue in the lungs. It occurs due to inhaling a pathogen, such as a bacterial infection or a virus.
- Causes coughing, difficulty breathing and chest pain
- Bacterial cases treated with antibiotics
- Viral cases treated with rest and hydration
If you are experiencing flu-like symptoms, or think you could have pneumonia and would like to speak to a doctor online, our online video consultation service can help you get the advice you need.
Pneumonia is the inflammation of lung tissue, caused by a pathogen that is inhaled. It’s a similar condition to bronchitis, although it’s often more severe and specifically affects the lungs (not the airwaves or bronchi). There are several different types of pneumonia, but the main distinctions are: bacterial pneumonia; viral pneumonia; fungal pneumonia (caused by a fungus); aspiration pneumonia (caused by a toxin or harmful substance) and hospital-acquired pneumonia. When it is contracted outside of a hospital, it is known as community-acquired pneumonia.
The most common symptoms of pneumonia are coughing, difficulty breathing, fever (high temperature and shivering), increased heart beat, and chest pain. Some people with pneumonia may also cough up blood, or experience a headache.
The incidence rate of community-acquired pneumonia in Europe is around 1 to 2 people per 1,000. This incidence rate increases dramatically for those over the age of 65 to around 14 people per 1,000. There is also a significantly higher prevalence in men than women for this age bracket.
Pneumonia is a particularly dangerous condition for older people. Having a respiratory condition such as asthma is a prominent risk factor, and people who smoke are also more likely to get it. Because it’s caused by the inhalation of pathogens, staying in a hospital also increases the likelihood of contracting it.
If pneumonia is contracted, it’s most likely to cause complications in people who are immunocompromised or have a pre-existing condition. A common complication of pneumonia is pleurisy, where the lining between the lungs and ribcage becomes inflamed.
It can also cause acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which occurs when the lungs cannot provide the vital organs with enough oxygen. This can be a life-threatening condition. In severe cases of pneumonia, septic shock is a possible complication, and occurs when organs become damaged in response to an infection.
Not everyone who develops pneumonia will need to go to hospital. Milder cases can often be treated at home. If a bacterial infection is responsible, a course of antibiotics will be prescribed, usually to kill the infection. Viral cases which are not serious will normally get better with plenty of rest and hydration. However, if a doctor suspects that the infection could be extensive, they may refer someone to hospital for treatment, so that they can be closely monitored.
For those who are at a greater risk of developing infections, there is immunisation available. It's recommended for children, people over the age of 65 and those who are at increased risk of developing complications. The vaccine most commonly used throughout the UK for pneumonia is known as the polyvalent vaccine. Most people will only need one jab, but some people with certain illnesses may need to have it every five years.
Our doctors can provide helpful advice if you think you might have pneumonia symptoms such as a cough, fever or headache. To speak to one of them through our secure, online video platform, simply book an appointment at a suitable time for you.
If you have symptoms which are serious, such as fast breathing and chest pain, you should go to hospital right away.
What are the causes of pneumonia?
Pneumonia is acquired by breathing in a pathogen, which causes an infection in the lungs. This can be bacterial, viral, or in rare cases, fungal. The most common cause is the Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria, which is thought to account for around 35% of cases in Europe. Other possible causes include Haemophilus influenzae and Moraxella catarrhalis.
In a healthy person, when a small amount of pathogen is inhaled, it’s normally cleared by the immune system, as it becomes stuck in phlegm. However, in people with a weakened immune system (for example, older people, or someone with a condition that affects how well their body’s defences work), the pathogen can multiply and spread more easily, which allows the infection to develop.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
A doctor will ask you about your symptoms. A cough, breathing problems, loss of appetite, fever and chest pain are common signs of pneumonia. They’ll normally then perform a physical examination by checking your temperature, and listening to your chest with a stethoscope.
If symptoms are particularly bad, an x-ray might be necessary in order to assess the extent of the infection.
Will I need tests?
It depends how severe it is. The worse your symptoms are, the more likely it is that your doctor will perform tests to measure the extent of the infection. Aside from an X-ray, your clinician may also recommend a blood test, to see if the body is producing antibodies to fight an infection, as well as a blood culture, which can assess if the bacteria has entered the bloodstream.
How is pneumonia managed?
Once more, it depends on the severity. Pneumonia can be treated at home if it’s only a mild case. The recommended course of antibiotics is amoxicillin, which is effective at tackling the infection in most cases.
Amoxicillin can be changed to a different antibiotic if a less common bacteria has been found. Aside from antibiotics, it is also important to drink a lot of fluids, and take paracetamol when necessary to ease pain or the effects caused by the fever.
How is pneumonia treated?
It depends on the cause. Bacterial cases of pneumonia are treated with antibiotics. For mild pneumonia, the recommended course of treatment is amoxicillin for 5 days, but this may be extended to 7-10 days if symptoms are slightly worse. For more severe pneumonia, or in cases where someone doesn’t respond well to antibiotics, hospitalisation will be required, where a different type of antibiotic may be administered via a drip.
If someone has a viral case of pneumonia, they’ll usually be advised to just rest and drink plenty of fluids. Medicines won’t be required, although paracetamol may be useful in alleviating pain or discomfort.
How long will it take for me to recover?
The vast majority of people who have pneumonia will recover, but depending on how severe it is, it may take a long time to recuperate fully. In mild to moderate cases, a temperature will usually clear within a week, a chest pain after a month and a cough after 6 weeks. However, this may be dependent on the age and general health of the patient.
Can I consult a doctor about pneumonia online?
If you have any of the symptoms commonly associated with pneumonia, it’s a good idea to speak to a doctor. You should go to hospital if you have any serious symptoms, such as chest pain or significant breathing problems.
If you have a cough and flu-like symptoms and would like to speak to a doctor online about your options, you can do so by booking an appointment to use our video consultation service.