Pneumonia/Pneumonitis

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What are pneumonia & pneumonitis?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lung where fluid and white blood cells, or pus, fill the air spaces and normal respiration is impaired. Pneumonitis can be considered an early or mild pneumonia. They are common in smokers and persons with lung diseases, but can develop in healthy individuals following bronchitis or influenza.

How do they occur?

Germs that cause pneumonia, including viruses and bacteria, are contagious: You can catch them from someone else who is sick. Irritation from smoke and allergies can also predispose you to pneumonia. Shallow breathing due to fractured ribs or asthma can result in pneumonia as well.

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Fever
  • Cough (often productive)
  • Difficulty breathing, shortness of breath
  • Chest discomfort during breathing/coughing
  • Feeling ill, and fatigued, and having body aches
  • Poor appetite, nausea/vomiting/diarrhea (less common)

Prevention

Avoiding persons sick with respiratory infections and washing hands frequently. Persons over age 65, or persons with chronic medical conditions, or current smokers, should receive a routine pneumonia vaccine.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of pneumonia is made based on the symptoms the patient is having, the physical exam and chest x-ray.

Treatment

Treatment includes prescription and over-the-counter medications, rest and fluids. Sometimes brief hospitalization may be required in severe cases, with the very young and very old most at risk for complications. Some improvement should be noticed in 48 to 72 hours and full recovery usually takes 2 weeks, with less fever and difficulty breathing. Fatigue is often the longest-lasting symptom.

Medications

Antibiotics may be prescribed to fight infections if caused by bacteria. Inhalers may be prescribed for difficulty breathing. Oral expectorants and cough suppressants such as over-the-counter pills or liquids containing guaifenesin and dextromethorphan may be used to decrease chest congestion and cough. Stronger cough medicines containing opiates may be used to allow for rest and sleep. For minor pain and fever you may use nonprescription analgesics such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin) as directed.

Diet

Drink plenty of fluids—generally 8 to 10 eight-ounce glasses of fluid per day (more if you have a high fever).

Activity

As with most infections you should consider yourself contagious to others. Use common-sense measures: cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing, limit close contact with people around you. Resume your normal activity gradually. Sometime during your treatment, and certainly after recovery, a follow up chest x-ray should be performed—usually 4 to 6 weeks after diagnoses—to ensure the pneumonia has resolved. Persons should recover fully with treatment and good sense.

Seek immediate care if symptoms worsen, especially if you have unrelenting fever, shortness of breath, chest pain, severe headache, nausea or vomiting, profound weakness, or if you are coughing up blood.