Pneumonia is inflammation or swelling in the lungs in which the air sacs fill with pus and other fluids, making it difficult for oxygen to reach the blood. Pneumonia can be typical or atypical, or may be classified as hospital-acquired, community-acquired, or aspiration. Typical pneumonia is most commonly caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcal pneumonia. Atypical pneumonia can be caused by viruses, fungi, bacteria, or chemicals (such as when stomach contents are inhaled into the lungs).
People who are otherwise healthy tend to recover quickly when given prompt and proper care. However, the elderly or those with chronic illnesses (such as Parkinson's disease) often develop a serious infection that needs prompt and often aggressive treatment in hospital.
What is bacterial pneumonia?
Bacterial pneumonia is pneumonia caused by bacteria. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia.
There is a vaccine (pneumococcal) available to protect people from this infection, which is offered by GPs to at-risk groups.
What are the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia?
Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or suddenly. Symptoms may include:
- High fever - sometimes as high as 41C (or 105F)
- Rapid breathing
- Cough with or without mucus (may be green, brown or have blood)
- Chest pain - often on breathing deeply in and out, but can also be constant
- Blue tint on the lips or under the nails (severe cases)
Who should get the pneumococcal vaccine?
You should get the pneumococcal vaccine if you:
- Are 65 years of age or older
- Have a chronic illness, such as diabetes, heart disease, kidney, liver or lung disease
- Have a suppressed immune system due to a medical condition such as HIV, or are on immune suppressant treatment such as corticosteroids
- Have had your spleen removed or have a condition that weakens your spleen such as sickle cell disease
- Have a cochlear implant
What is viral pneumonia?
Viral pneumonia is pneumonia caused by a virus. About half of all people with pneumonia have viral pneumonia. It is more common in children. Viral pneumonia is usually less serious than bacterial pneumonia and can take from two to four weeks to recover.
What are the symptoms of viral pneumonia?
Early symptoms are similar to flu, and include:
- Dry cough
- Sore throat
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle pain
Additional symptoms that may occur about a day later include:
- High fever
- Cough with mucus
- Shortness of breath
Additional symptoms in severe cases can include:
- Extreme breathlessness
- Blue tint on the lips or under the nails
How can I protect myself from pneumonia?
- Have flu jab each year if recommended to do so. Flu vaccines are prepared annually in anticipation of that year's virus strain. Influenza can make pneumonia infection more likely. The vaccine is given to susceptible people and your GP will list you for this. Contact your GP if you think you are eligible. Some employers undertake to offer the vaccine.
- Get the pneumococcal vaccine to protect yourself against Streptococcus pneumoniae. Again you will be on your GP’s list if you are eligible.
- Get advice and take appropriate action in respect of any other infections in the respiratory system, especially those in the lungs.
- Wash your hands before eating, before preparing food, and after being outside.
- Try to avoid people who have colds or flu.
- Eat a healthy diet, exercise, and get plenty of rest.
- Seek medical advice if you think you have symptoms. Don't wait for symptoms to get worse as you may develop an emergency condition.
- Stop smoking and certainly never start.
- Don't drink heavily.