Pneumonia is referred to as the inflammation of the tissues in one or both lungs, most commonly caused by infectious pathogens, usually bacteria. It can also be contacted by inhaling contaminated liquids or chemicals which fill the lung’s alveoli with noxious fluid thereby hindering oxygenation.
Pneumonia, a common disease throughout human history, is an inflammatory condition of the lung(s), affecting primarily the air sacs (alveoli). It usually starts when germs gain access into the lungs or after exposure to cold or flu. Having long-term or chronic diseases predisposes people to pneumonia. These illnesses reduce the capacity of the lungs to fight infection and that makes it easier for pneumonia to attack the susceptible organs of the body.
People can get infected with pneumonia in their daily life such as at school or work environment. This is called community-acquired pneumonia. Pneumonia can also infect people in hospitals or nursing homes. This is called healthcare facility-acquired pneumonia. These groups of people most likely need treatment in hospital. Pneumonia is the most common hospital-acquired infection that affects and causes death to millions of people each year.
Nevertheless, in developing countries, and among the very old, young and the chronically ill, pneumonia remains a leading cause of death. Annually, pneumonia affects approximately 450 million people, resulting to about 4 million deaths globally. Many of these deaths occur in the newborn. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one in three newborn infant deaths is due to pneumonia. Approximately half of these deaths can theoretically be prevented, as they are caused by the bacteria which can be destroyed by available and effective vaccine. Interestingly, this is part of the awareness this publication seeks to strengthen. Therefore, it’s important you know and promptly report the case of pneumonia at any standard healthcare facility for early and expert medical intervention.
WHAT IS PNEUMONIA
Pneumonia is a respiratory disease caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi that attack one or both lungs causing low resistance to cold, other minor ailments and inflammation of the lung(s). It is simply the inflammation (swelling) of the tissues in one or both sides of the lungs; most commonly caused by a pathogen, bacteria. Pneumonia is responsible for the filling of the lung’s alveoli with noxious fluids which restrict the free entry of oxygen into the lungs for essential metabolic functions. The alveolus on the left can be normal, whereas the one on the right is full of fluid from pneumonia exudates. Pneumonia frequently starts as an upper respiratory tract infection that moves into the lower respiratory tract.
CAUSES OF PNEUMONIA
Pneumonia is predominantly caused by infections from viruses or bacteria. Pneumonia caused by bacteria tends to be the most serious in virulence. It is important to emphasize that many different bacteria, viruses and (rarely) fungi cause pneumonia; depending on where the pneumonia began. For example, germs that cause pneumonia contracted in hospitals are different from those that cause pneumonia from the community. The germs that cause pneumonia infection are usually breathed in. In rare cases, pneumonia can develop from an infection elsewhere in the body, when germs enter the lungs through the bloodstream. Other microorganisms, certain drugs and autoimmune diseases can equally cause Pneumonia. Pneumonia can also be contacted through the inhalation of contaminated liquids or chemicals.
FACTORS WHICH PREDISPOSE PEOPLE TO PNEUMONIA
There are some health conditions which make people more prone to pneumonia attack. They include:
- Heart diseases
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
PEOPLE AT HIGHER RISK OF PNEUMONIA ATTACKS
Globally, pneumonia can affect people of any age. However, it is more common, and can exert more serious and damaging effects in groups such as:
- Babies(newborn) and children less than five years of age
- Young children or teenagers
- Elderly people older than 65 years of age
- People with existing lung diseases or weakened immune system.
COMPLICATIONS OF PNEUMONIA
Complications of pneumonia are more common in older people, young children and people with existing health conditions such as diabetes. Other complications of pneumonia that require admission to hospital for prompt treatment are pleurisy, lung abscess and blood poisoning (septicemia).
SYMPTOMS AND SIGNS OF PNEUMONIA
The symptoms and signs of pneumonia can develop suddenly (over 1-2 days) or may come on more slowly, over several days. Symptoms and signs of pneumonia vary from mild to severe, depending on the patients age. They include coughing out bloody or rust-coloured mucus, breathing problems that get worse, sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when coughing or during deep breaths. There may be fast or painful breathing with wheezing, excessive night sweats and clammy or blue-tinged skin. Unexplained weight loss, shaking and “teeth-chattering” chills once or many times, persistent mild or high fevers and weak immune system are consistent with pneumonia attack. Cough that is dry or may produce phlegm (thick mucus) that is yellowish, greenish, brownish or blood-stained which does not improve or gets worse and difficult breathing or shortness of breath during normal daily activities can be observed. Sudden experience of worst or generally unwell feeling especially after cold or flu attack, rapid respiratory rate or heartbeat, decreased level of consciousness or confusion particularly in elderly people and decreased thirst and appetite are other symptoms and signs of pneumonia. There are also symptoms and signs of headaches, fatigue (feeling very tired or weak), joints and muscles pains, persistent nausea and vomiting, diarrhea with abdominal pain and convulsions. Swelling of the lymph nodes in the neck, middle ear infection and low blood pressure are other common presentations.
AVOID THESE AND PREVENT THE ATTACK OF PNEUMONIA
It is important for people to avoid all forms of smoking which damage lungs, making it more easily to be infected with pneumonia. Excessive and prolonged alcohol misuse which weakens the lungs’ natural defenses against infections, making the body more vulnerable to pneumonia should be done away with. Abuse of drugs for cough or cold should be avoided. Exposure to birds and farm animals which produce contaminated objects or airborne droplets inhalable through the mouth or nose should be avoided. Avoid indoor air pollution from cooking indoors with wood or kerosene in a poorly ventilated apartment. Use of over-the-counter cough drugs and zinc for children without prescription must be timely checked.
TREATMENT OF PNEUMONIA
Vaccines which prevent certain types of pneumonia are available. Antibiotics improve outcomes in those with bacterial pneumonia. Antibiotic choice depends essentially on certain characteristics such as the age of the affected person, underlying health conditions, the location where the infection was acquired and the suspected causative organism. Pneumonia caused by a virus usually is not treated with antibiotics. Generally, if the pneumonia is severe, the affected person should be hospitalized. For most people, pneumonia can be treated at home with good response within 2 to 3 weeks.
BE AN ACTIVE PARTNER AGAINST PNEUMONIA
If you experience the signs and symptoms of pneumonia above, contact your doctor early for test and choice of the best treatment option you must complete as instructed. Contact your doctor if you do not feel better after 2 to 3 days of treatment. Wash your hands often, especially after blowing your nose, using the toilet or diaper. Wash your hands before eating or preparing foods and take recommended vaccinations on schedule. Wear surgical masks and place warm, wet washcloth loosely over your nose and mouth if infected by pneumonia.
Use exclusive breast feeding for children less than 6 months of age to reduce both the risk and severity of pneumonia. Breathe warm and moist (wet) air to help loosen the sticky mucus that may cause choking feeling and take a couple of deep breath two or three times every hour to help open up your lungs. Hit your chest gently 4-10 times a day while lying with your head lower than your chest to help decongest the clog of mucus in the lungs. Drink 6-10 cups (about 8litres) of liquids such as water especially, juice or weak tea a day. Get plenty of rest and sleep during the day in properly ventilated room if you have sleeping difficulty at nights. Stay away or protected from people who have flu, colds, measles or chickenpox. When you cough or sneeze, cover your mouth and nose with tissue to catch the germs, dispose of the used tissues immediately and appropriately; and wash your hands to avoid transferring germs to objects and people around you.