You thought your cold was clearing up, but now you feel much worse: You’re coughing, you have a fever and chills, and it’s difficult to breathe. Are you having a relapse, or is this something more serious?
What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection that can affect one or both of your lungs. Bacteria, a virus, or even fungi can trigger pneumonia. In the United States, bacterial pneumonia is commonly the result of infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. The viruses that cause colds and flu can also cause pneumonia, which usually results in a more mild form of the condition. Fungi — inhaled from soil or bird droppings — can also be to blame, typically in people with weakened immune systems.
Pneumonia is lung inflammation caused by bacterial or viral infection.
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Pneumonia Symptoms: Warning Signs to Know
All types of pneumonia can cause the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. When this occurs, you can develop a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild to debilitating. They can include:
- Coughing, often with phlegm
- A high fever
- Chills and shaking
- Chest pain when you cough or breathe
- Shortness of breath
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Which People Are More Likely to Get Pneumonia?
Although anyone can get pneumonia, it is more common in certain groups. Children younger than age 2 and people older than age 65 are most likely to develop it. Certain factors can also increase your risk of pneumonia, such as:
- Having a weakened immune system. This is usually a problem for people who have HIV/AIDS, who are alcoholic, who have had an organ transplant, or who have undergone chemotherapy or long-term treatment with steroids or other immunosuppressant drugs.
- Being hospitalized or being on a ventilator
- Having a chronic condition including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, structural lung disease and heart disease
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With proper treatment, pneumonia will clear up in most people. However, it can cause complications, particularly in those who are in the high-risk groups mentioned above. Complications can include severe difficulty breathing, fluid build-up around the lungs, a lung abscess, and the spread of bacteria to the blood and other organs. In some cases, pneumonia can be fatal.
For these reasons, it’s crucial to seek prompt treatment if you think you have pneumonia — and to take steps to prevent it in the first place. Your doctor may use a variety of tests to diagnose the problem, including a physical exam, blood tests, and chest X-rays.
How Your Doctor Treats Pneumonia
The treatment you receive depends on the type of pneumonia you have, as well as your age, general health, and the severity of your symptoms. Most people with pneumonia can be treated at home and will recover in a few days to a few weeks. Treatments include:
- Antibiotics to treat bacterial infections
- Cough medicine to help ease but not eliminate coughing (some coughing is beneficial because it helps move fluid out of your lungs)
- Pain relievers to help lower a fever and relieve discomfort
- Self-care measures, such as getting plenty of rest and staying hydrated
If you believe you are sick, find a doctor at UPMC.
Headquartered in Pittsburgh, UPMC is a world-renowned health care provider and insurer. We operate 40 hospitals and 700 doctors’ offices and outpatient centers, with locations in central and western Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, and internationally. We employ 4,900 physicians, and we are leaders in clinical care, groundbreaking research, and treatment breakthroughs. U.S. News & World Report consistently ranks UPMC Presbyterian Shadyside as one of the nation’s best hospitals in many specialties and ranks UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh on its Honor Roll of America’s Best Children’s Hospitals.