Pneumonia
Last Edited: April 10th, 2012

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Pneumonia

Most people have heard the term pneumonia before and understand that it is a lung condition which can be very serious. There are many different causes of pneumonia and the severity of the condition can range from minor to deadly, depending on the cause, patient’s health, and treatment. In its most basic definition, pneumonia refers to an inflammation of the lungs, most commonly the lung’s microscopic air sacs, also known as “alveoli.” Despite the cause of pneumonia, because of the lung’s inflammatory response, the resulting effect is lack of air-space within the lungs. Because our lung’s are responsible for carrying oxygen to the rest of our body, this lack of air-space can result in a lack of oxygen throughout the rest of the body and can be very dangerous.

Causes

Pneumonia is most often caused by some kind of infection within the lungs; however, it can be a result of irritants in the air which the patient breathed in. There are even some non-infection cases of pneumonia in which the reason for the swelling remains unknown. There are over one hundred microorganisms which are known to cause pneumonia in humans, but only a handful are common.

The most prevalent cause of pneumonia is bacteria. Of those cases caused by bacterial infections, almost half are due to a strain of bacterial known as Streptococcus pneumoniae, which related to the bacteria that causes the common “strep throat.” Other common bacterial strains that can cause pneumonia are Haemophilus influenzae and Chlamydophila pneumoniae.

A string of viruses can also invade the lungs and lead to pneumonia. The most common of these viruses include rhinoviruses, also known as “the common cold;” influenza virus, which causes the common flu; and respiratory syncytial virus, also called “RSV,” which is known to cause a variety of respiratory infections.

Another, less common, cause of pneumonia is fungi growth, which can occur in the lungs of patients who have weakened immune systems, either due to immune disorders such as AIDS or from taking immune system suppressing drugs. Certain parasites are also known to invade the respiratory system and cause pneumonia.

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of pneumonia include a persistent, deep chest cough, chills, fever, difficulty breathing, pain when breathing, increased breathing speed, and even confusion (which is caused by lack of oxygen to the brain). Severe cases of pneumonia can lead to blue or purple discoloration of the skin (also due to lack of oxygen in the body), vomiting, convulsions, and even bouts of unconsciousness.

Treatment

There are a variety of effective treatments for pneumonia and several ways to prevent the condition in the first place. Vaccinations are available to prevent bacterial and viral related pneumonias. If the patient contracts pneumonia, antibiotics can be administered to kill the bacteria within the lungs. Rest, drinking plenty of fluids, and over-the-counter pain medicines to treat symptoms can also help treat pneumonia. Most kinds of bacterial pneumonia are easily treated, especially if caught early. Though pneumonia caused by viruses tends to last longer than bacterial pneumonia, the body can usually fight it off in about a month. If left untreated for a long period of time, pneumonia can lead to a blood infection, which can be fatal. In areas of the world where healthcare is not readily available or advanced, pneumonia is more deadly.