Pneumonia: Signs, Symptoms, Treatments and More
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. Pneumonia often makes it quite difficult to breathe and causes a severe cough. Pneumonia leaves you coughing, feeling exhausted and uncomfortable. Even worse, the symptoms can last for months.
There are different types of pneumonia and the severity of the illness varies from person to person. Pneumonia can also resemble other sicknesses such as bronchitis. It is important to know the signs and symptoms of pneumonia so you can seek proper treatment.
Read on to learn more about what causes pneumonia, how long it lasts, who is at risk, and how to get treatment.
What is Pneumonia?
In its most basic terms, pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Your lungs are lined with tiny air sacs called alveoli. Alveoli carry oxygen from the lungs to the bloodstream. When pneumonia infects these sacs, they become irritated and inflamed. Your body’s response to pneumonia is to fight the infection by filling the lungs with phlegm. Unfortunately this makes it hard for oxygen to reach the bloodstream and causes a severe, and painful cough.
Pneumonia can actually be a complication of cold or flu. In many cases, it follows closely behind a severe cold or flu.
There are many symptoms that accompany pneumonia, they range in severity, but if you are experiencing 2 or more of the below symptoms, contact your doctor for an official diagnosis immediately.
- High fever up to 105 degrees
- Deep cough that brings up mucus (may get worse at night)
- Greenish, yellow, or bloody mucus
- Chills/shaking chills
- A consistent feeling of being out of breath, often brought on by movement
- Feeling exhausted
- No appetite
- Sharp chest pains often occur when taking deep breaths and/coughing
- Fast, shallow breathing
Types of Pneumonia: General Information and Contagion
There are four types of pneumonia:
- Bacterial Pneumonia—this is pneumonia caused by bacteria. Antibiotics are typically used to treat it. Bacterial pneumonia is a more common and can be serious without proper treatment if the bacteria spread.
Is Bacterial Pneumonia Contagious?
Yes, bacterial pneumonia is contagious. Because bacteria are able to survive off a host, they can linger on commonly used and touched surfaces such as door handles and keyboards. Therefore it is very important to clean these places often, especially if someone around you is sick. Also wash your hands frequently and cover when you cough and sneeze.
How long is pneumonia contagious?
Pneumonia is typically contagious while you have a fever. A fever is indicative of your body working extra hard to fight an infection, meaning the pneumonia is thriving in your body and can be spread.
- Viral pneumonia—this is pneumonia caused by a virus. Typically respiratory viruses are the cause, as they infect the lungs. Viral pneumonia is especially common in children and older people. This type of pneumonia is rarely serious and typically goes away faster than bacterial pneumonia.
Is Viral Pneumonia Contagious?
Viral pneumonia is also contagious, for the same reasons bacterial pneumonia is. So be sure to take preventative measure to stop the spread of viral pneumonia.
Mycoplasma pneumonia—Mycoplasma pneumonia is considered an atypical bacterial pneumonia. It is also called walking pneumonia because it usually presents a milder case, typically affecting older children and young adults. We’ll talk more about walking pneumonia later in the article.
Fungal pneumonia—fungal pneumonia occurs when fungus typically from bird droppings or soil is inhaled. It is less common and usually affects those who work around fungus, and those who have chronic diseases or weakened immune systems such as HIV/AIDS patients.
Depending on which type of pneumonia you have your recovery will vary.
How Long Does Pneumonia Last?
Here is a rough outline of what to expect for typical cases of pneumonia in otherwise healthy individuals with proper treatment:
1 week—fever subsides
4 weeks—mucus production down and chest relief
6 weeks—reduced coughing and improved breathing
3 months—symptoms should be gone, although fatigue may linger
6 months—full recovery
Remember, recovery varies drastically depending on who is infected and the type of pneumonia, the timeframes above do not apply to all cases and will change from person to person.
It is also important to note that even after pneumonia is gone, your body is still working to get back to normal. This means you may feel tired as your energy is used to strengthen your immune system. You also will have a cough for several weeks to clear your lungs of mucus post infection.
If you have bilateral pneumonia which is pneumonia in both lungs, or bronchial pneumonia, which is pneumonia afflicting the bronchi, your recovery may take longer as these types of pneumonia are more serious.
Who is at Risk of Pneumonia?
Some people are at a higher risk of developing more serious cases of pneumonia, which unfortunately also makes for a more difficult recovery. These people are:
- Infants to 2 year olds
- People 65 and older
- Stroke survivors who have swallowing problems or are bedridden. (Small amounts of liquids in the lungs from improper swallowing can build up and lead to pneumonia by providing a breeding ground for bacteria.)
- Those with weakened immune systems due to disease or medications such as HIV/AIDS
- People who smoke, abuse drugs and alcohol
- People with asthma, cystic fibrosis, diabetes or heart failure
For individuals who fall into any of these categories pneumonia can be seriously debilitating and in some cases deadly. Early diagnosis combined with proper treatment is crucial to prevent pneumonia from worsening. In some cases patients may be hospitalized to receive intensive treatment and have their progress monitored.
Pneumonia in Elderly
As mentioned in the list above, people over 65 years of age are at a significantly higher risk of contracting pneumonia. The most common types of pneumonia contracted by older people are bacterial and viral pneumonia. This is because many elderly people have weakened and/or compromised immune systems that may struggle to fight off the invading virus or bacteria.
Unfortunately the elderly are also more susceptible to community pneumonia than others. Community pneumonia is pneumonia that circulates through dense communities living in close proximity such as nursing homes and hospitals. This makes the elderly more likely to be exposed to pneumonia and therefore increases the odds of contraction.
Elderly who do contract pneumonia have a slower recovery time, with otherwise healthy individuals taking an average minimum of 3 weeks according to seniorliving.org.
Those who are already living with other illness, especially respiratory diseases such as COPD, have a much longer recovery process often taking several months if a full recovery is ever made.
There is an increased risk of death in these elderly patients. According to the Center for Disease Control, up to 50,000 people die of pneumonia a year. Many of these patients are elderly.
If you or someone you know is 65 or older and experiencing pneumonia symptoms contact your doctor immediately. Prompt and proper treatment could be the difference between life and death.
Walking Pneumonia is a less serious case of pneumonia also called a chest cold. Walking pneumonia is typically not debilitating, meaning you can usually carry on with your day, hence the name “walking pneumonia.” For this same reason it is also called atypical pneumonia because it doesn’t cause the usual symptoms of pneumonia that can lead to bed rest and in some cases even hospitalization. In fact, walking pneumonia is often undiagnosed and confused for the common cold.
Walking pneumonia is an atypical bacterial infection and is categorized as Mycoplasma pneumonia. 2 million people in the United States are afflicted each year.
Walking Pneumonia Symptoms in Adults
- Chest pain while taking deep breaths
- Cough that brings up phlegm, may be brought on by movement and worse at night
- Sore throat
- Low fever
- Fatigue, which may linger even after other symptoms subside
These symptoms are easily confused with other illnesses such as the flu, the common cold and bronchitis. Be sure to contact your doctor for an official diagnosis.
Walking pneumonia vs bronchitis
Walking pneumonia and bronchitis differ in that bronchitis is an infection of the bronchial tubes, and pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. While acute bronchitis often goes away on its own, walking pneumonia typically requires further treatment, more rest and a longer recovery.
What is Bronchitis?
The bronchial tubes connect your trachea and lungs. Air passes through them as you inhale and exhale. When harmful bacteria or a virus infect these tubes, they get irritated and inflamed. Swelling results in narrowing of the bronchial tubes, making breathing more difficult. As a response to infection your body produces more mucus membranes. A narrowed airway and excess mucus results in a productive cough. This means you are coughing up phlegm.
While pneumonia can be bronchial, it also infects the alveoli in the lungs. Bronchitis is exclusively an infection of the bronchial tubes and if it reaches the lungs it is considered pneumonia.
Read here to learn more about the signs and symptoms of bronchitis.
Viruses or bacteria typically cause both walking pneumonia and bronchitis.
Walking Pneumonia Antibiotics
If the walking pneumonia is caused by a bacterial infection then your doctor can prescribe antibiotics. Antibiotics are used to fight off harmful bacteria and should only be prescribed if the cause of infection is bacteria. Be sure to get a proper diagnosis from your doctor to determine the cause of your pneumonia before starting antibiotic treatment.
As mentioned before, treatment will depend on the cause of pneumonia and the type. For viral pneumonia, antiviral medication will be prescribed, for bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics will be prescribed. Your doctor will work with you to come up with the best treatment plan for your specific case.
There are also many steps you can take to reduce your symptoms and get relief in addition to taking your doctor prescribed medication.
Home Remedies For Pneumonia
While home remedies will not cure your pneumonia, they can be a great way to get relief and ease your symptoms while you recover. Below is a list of ideas to try at home.
- Gargle warm salt water to clear out the irritating mucus that may get stuck in your throat. The salt may also help kill some bacteria.
- Drink hot tea, preferably peppermint. Peppermint has menthol in it, which is a natural decongestant and can help clear out excess mucus to give your throat a cooling sensation.
- Take an over the counter painkiller such as Advil or ibuprofen to lower your fever and get some relief. Do not take painkillers on an empty stomach, so be sure to eat before. For adults two, 200mg capsules every four to six hours is a typical dose, but be sure to consult with your doctor if you are on other medication before taking over the counter medicine. For children consult the packaging and your pediatrician.
- If you do get chills drink warm water and have a bowl of soup to warm your body internally. Chills happen when you are getting or currently experiencing a fever. They usually go away once your fever breaks.
- If you are short of breath try sitting in front of a fan for 5 minutes. Fresh air directed towards the face has been shown to help patients catch their breath and relieve shallow breathing. If this does not work and you continue to struggle to breathe, seek medical attention.
- If you are experiencing chest pain try drinking turmeric or ginger tea. Both have anti-inflammatory properties that may help open the lungs and reduce pain.
- Be sure to stay hydrated and drink plenty of fluids, especially water. It is recommended you drink at least 8 cups of water a day to thin thick mucus making it easier for you to clear your lungs and to lower your fever.
If you need to speak with a doctor, book an online doctor appointment with PlushCare. We have appointments available every 15 minutes. You will be able to speak with a top doctor who can diagnose, treat and prescribe medication to your local pharmacy.