What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can occur in one or both lungs. Your lungs contain tiny air sacs, which fill with fluid and disrupt the process of normal breathing. Pneumonia is a common illness. 

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may include any of the following:

  • cough (often with mucus or phlegm)
  • fever
  • chills
  • chest pain
  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • body aches 
  • dizziness
  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting or diarrhea

What causes pneumonia?

Pneumonia may be caused by bacteria, a virus, or fungi. When the immune system is weakened, or if the body’s natural barriers are disrupted (for instance, from smoking tobacco), the lungs can become more easily overtaken by pathogens. 

Some types of pneumonia are contagious. It can be passed to others when someone who is sick coughs or sneezes and expels infected droplets. 

Who is at risk for pneumonia?

Pneumonia can infect anyone, no matter what age. Individuals in two age groups, however, are more likely to have a severe case of pneumonia: children under two years of age and seniors over age 65. Individuals with underlying pulmonary conditions or weakened immune systems are at greater risk.

How is pneumonia treated?

Anyone with pneumonia needs to speak to a doctor for treatment. Hospitalization may be necessary in some individuals based on their age, vital signs, symptoms, and other existing medical conditions that could increase their risk for severe disease. 

Pneumonia is treated based on the cause of the infection:

  • bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics
  • viral pneumonia is treated with supportive care or an antivirus medication
  • fungal pneumonia is treated with an antifungal medication

To address symptoms associated with pneumonia, your doctor may also recommend:

  • breathing treatments
  • pain relievers
  • cough suppressants 

What is walking pneumonia?

You may have heard the term “walking pneumonia.” This is an older term used to describe less severe cases of pneumonia that do not require hospitalization, but which can progress to severe cases and be challenging to treat.

Can pneumonia be prevented?

One of the best ways to prevent infection is by boosting your immune system. You can do that by adopting healthy habits, which include:

  • drinking alcohol only in moderation
  • avoiding tobacco use and other noxious substances
  • adopting good sleeping habits
  • eating a healthy diet 
  • regular exercise
  • proper handwashing and good hygiene, washing your hands often throughout the day 
  • getting a vaccine for pneumonia that is appropriate for some individuals 

Who should get a pneumonia vaccine?

The pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent a bacterial pneumonia infection. In general, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all children under two years and all adults over 65 years receive vaccines. There are several types of pneumonia vaccines available, and your doctor will recommend one that is most appropriate for you based on your age and health. 

In addition, individuals with certain medical conditions should also consider a vaccine as they may be at higher risk for severe disease from pneumonia. Talk with your doctor about getting a pneumococcal vaccine if you have any of the following conditions:

Individuals who have had a severe reaction to a vaccine or have an allergy to the ingredients in the vaccine, should not receive a pneumococcal vaccine. Be sure to discuss with your doctor or your child’s pediatrician whether the vaccine is right for you or your child. 

How many shots of the pneumonia vaccine do I need?

Infants receive several doses of one type of pneumonia vaccine before turning age two as part of the recommended vaccine schedule. For adults over age 65, the guidelines have recently been changed, and we encourage you to talk with your doctor about the latest recommendations. 

If you are experiencing signs or symptoms of pneumonia, be sure to speak with your primary care provider right away or seek help at an urgent care facility. 

Roy Souaid, MD

Roy Souaid, MD

Dr. Roy Souaid is an internal medicine specialist practicing with Lifespan Physician Group Primary Care in Cranston. He specializes in internal medicine and preventative medicine.