Pneumonia means your lung tissue and your alveoli are infected. The tissue may be infected in part of the lung, in all of the lung, or in both lungs. The infection is caused by a virus, bacteria or fungal infection. Examples of such a virus or bacteria are the influenza virus and the pneumococcal bacteria. Pneumonia caused by a fungal infection is the least common and usually occurs in people with a compromised immune system.
Your upper respiratory tract will usually become infected first, resulting in a cold or sore throat. Pneumonia can develop if the infection spreads to the lower respiratory tract up to the alveoli. The infection causes the mucous membrane to swell and produce more mucus. This ends up in the alveoli and will make you feel short of breath. Bacteria can get in if the mucus builds up in your lungs for an extended period of time. This will worsen the infection.
Anyone can get pneumonia. However, there are certain risk groups who are more prone to it, including:
- Drug addicts.
- The elderly.
- People with diabetes (mellitus).
- People with COPD.
- People with a compromised immune system. For example, because they’re undergoing chemotherapy or have been diagnosed with HIV.
- People who have had a stroke.
- People who are bedridden.
- People with asthma.
- Young children.
People with pneumonia will suffer from:
- A cough.
- Altered or accelerated breathing.
- Pain when inhaling and exhaling.
- Chest pain.
- Shortness of breath.
- A drowsy and sluggish feeling.
- A rise in your body temperature (a measured temperature above 38 degrees).
Pneumonia can make you feel very unwell and can be accompanied by side effects like headaches and a poor appetite.
If pneumonia has been diagnosed, we recommend that you:
- Get plenty of rest.
- Exercise three times a week, but don’t overdo it.
- Have plenty to drink.
- Stop smoking and avoid smoke inhalation.
- Take paracetamol for severe pain. Read the package leaflet before taking paracetamol. This will ensure you’re taking the correct dose.
Your symptoms will usually go away on their own. Your body temperature will drop after 2 to 3 days. The coughing symptoms can last for a few weeks. Pneumonia caused by bacteria is more serious and is usually treated with a course of antibiotics. This is not prescribed if the pneumonia is caused by a virus.
Do you suspect you have pneumonia? Then we would recommend contacting your GP to prevent your symptoms from getting worse. You should contact your GP immediately if:
- You are very short of breath.
- You have a wheeze.
- You’re having trouble breathing.
- You’re coughing up blood.
- You’re drowsy or confused.
- You have a fever which doesn’t improve or comes back after you’ve had a few fever-free days.
- You’re suffering from chills.
- You’re losing weight.
- You’re suffering from coughing complaints for a long time.
Have you already been to your GP, or have you already been prescribed a course of antibiotics? Then visit your GP again if:
- Your symptoms have not improved after three days.
- You’re becoming increasingly unwell, despite the course of antibiotics.