What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a common lung infection caused by bacteria or fungi. You may cough, run a fever and have a heard time breathing. Anyone can get (or "catch") pneumonia.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Pneumonia symptoms can vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of pneumonia you have, your age and health. The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

  • A cough that may be greenish or yellow mucus or even blood mucus
  • Fever that may be mild or high
  • Shaking chills
  • Shortness of breath, which may only occur when you climb stairs

Additional pneumonia symptoms include:

  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when breathing deeply or coughing
  • Headache
  • Excessive sweating and clammy skin
  • Loss of appetite, low energy and fatigue
  • Confusion, especially in older people

What are the risk factors for pneumonia?

Risk factors that increase your chances of getting pneumonia include:

  • Cigarette smoking
  • Recent viral respiratory infection, such as the cold, flu or laryngitis
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Chronic lung diseases, such as COPD, bronchiectasis or cystic fibrosis
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Other serious illnesses, such as heart disease, liver cirrhosis or diabetes
  • Living in a nursing facility
  • Impaired consciousness
  • Recent surgery or trauma
  • Having a weakened immune system due to illness, certain medications and autoimmune disorders

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

Your physician will perform a physical exam and listen to your lungs to diagnose pneumonia. If you have pneumonia, your lungs may make crackling, bubbling and rumbling sounds when you inhale. You may also be wheezing, and it may be hard to hear sounds of breathing in some areas of your chest. Your physician will order a chest X-ray if pneumonia is suspected to look at your chest.

How is pneumonia treated?

Depending on the type of pneumonia you have and how severe it is, and if you have other chronic diseases, treatment varies. The goals of pneumonia treatment are to cure the infection and prevent complications. Most people can be treated for pneumonia at home with the following steps:

  • Drink plenty of fluids to help loosen secretions and bring up phlegm
  • Rest
  • Do not take cough medicines without consulting your physician; coughing is one way your body works to get rid of an infection. If coughing is preventing you from getting the rest you need, ask your physician about steps to take to get relief
  • Control your fever with aspirin, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or acetaminophen

If your pneumonia becomes so severe that you are treated in the hospital, you may receive fluids and antibiotics in your veins, oxygen therapy and possibly breathing treatments.