Pneumonia is a respiratory illness caused by an infection in one or both lungs. The infection causes inflammation and the accumulation of fluids in the lungs’ air sacs (alveoli). This disrupts the normal exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the lungs. The affected individual may experience symptoms such as cough, fever, and difficulty breathing.
Pneumonia demands immediate attention due to its potential severity. While most cases are resolved successfully, it is one of the leading causes of hospitalization. Tens of thousands of Americans are killed by the illness each year.
Coughing (may be productive, with mucus that is yellow, greenish, or bloody)
Shortness of breath
Chest pain that worsens when coughing or breathing deeply
Loss of appetite
Fever, chills and sweating
Confusion (most commonly in older people)
Vomiting and nausea (most commonly in small children)
Walking pneumonia refers to a milder form of the illness, where individuals may not even realize they have pneumonia. Symptoms are subtle and often mimic a common cold. Due to the mildness of the symptoms, most people with walking pneumonia feel able to continue “walking around,” doing their daily activities. Walking pneumonia is contagious and can lead to worse forms of pneumonia, especially in at-risk groups such as infants, elderly people, smokers, and those with respiratory conditions or weakened immune systems.
While both conditions affect the respiratory system, pneumonia targets the lungs' air sacs, whereas bronchitis inflames the air passages leading to the lungs. Distinguishing between the two is crucial for accurate diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
Get medical help right away if:
It becomes hard to breath
Your lips and fingernails change color (cyanosis)
You have chest pain
You develop a high fever
Coughing produces a severe amount of mucus
Pneumonia can be triggered by a variety of pathogens, including viruses, bacteria, and fungi. In the US, the most common causes of pneumonia are influenza viruses, respiratory syncytial virus, SARS-CoV-2, and two types of bacteria: Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) and Mycoplasma pneumoniae.
Pathogens reach the lungs through inhalation. The most common transmission method is through tiny droplets produced by coughing, sneezing, or talking. Occasionally, you can get pneumonia from touching an infected surface and then touching your mouth or nose.
The common cold and the flu are caused by respiratory viruses. If the virus enters your lungs, it can cause pneumonia.
Inhaled mold can lead to pneumonia, particularly in individuals with compromised immune systems.
A sinus infection can progress to pneumonia if the infection spreads to the lungs. Prompt treatment of sinus infections reduces the risk of complications.
Preventing pneumonia involves practicing good hygiene, staying up-to-date with vaccinations, avoiding tobacco smoke, practicing good hygiene, and maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
Pneumonia begins with the inhalation of pathogenic microorganisms, such as bacteria, viruses, or fungi. The infection triggers an inflammatory response in one or both lungs, causing the air sacs to fill with fluid and inflammatory cells. This leads to consolidation, where affected lung tissue becomes solid rather than filled with air.
Blood vessels in the affected lung become engorged with red blood cells, giving the lung a reddish appearance. The lung continues to fill with fluid, leading to respiratory difficulties.
In this stage, the inflammation begins to heal. The lung tissue becomes more solid and grayish as fluids break down. With the reduction of inflammation, there is a gradual improvement in the exchange of gases in the affected lung.
The resolution of pneumonia results in the restoration of normal lung tissue structure and function.
Individuals with pneumonia should steer clear of smoke, overexertion, and unnecessary exposure to respiratory irritants.
Pneumonia treatment often involves antibiotics or antiviral medication. Rest, hydration, and over-the-counter pain relievers can help manage symptoms. Your healthcare provider will advise you on the best course of treatment for your illness.
Delaying professional care for pneumonia can lead to severe complications and even death. To avoid possibly getting to the point of hospitalization, seek medical care if your symptoms persist or worsen despite home remedies. You can access quick, expert medical care at your local WellNow Urgent Care Center. If you’re in severe respiratory distress, get to your local emergency room immediately.
The healing time for pneumonia varies, typically ranging from one to three weeks. Factors such as overall health, age, and the type of pneumonia influence the recovery timeline.
Untreated pneumonia can lead to severe complications, including sepsis, lung abscesses, and failure of the respiratory system, heart, or kidneys. These serious complications are life-threatening. Seeking timely medical attention is crucial to prevent these potential outcomes.
The American Lung Association is a leader in providing education on lung health. Visit lung.org for articles and information on pneumonia and other illnesses affecting the lungs.
WellNow medical professionals are also an excellent resource. You can even talk to an expert medical provider online at any time.
Pneumonia should be treated immediately to prevent complications and ensure a swift recovery. At WellNow Urgent Care, our dedicated specialists are well-equipped to address pneumonia cases. Don't hesitate to reach out to us for timely and effective treatment.
This medical information has been reviewed for accuracy by Dr. Robert Birenbaum, Chief Medical Officer for WellNow Urgent Care.
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