The very young, the very old, those who abuse alcohol or drugs or use tobacco, and people with chronic medical conditions, are all at higher-than-average risk of developing pneumonia, an inflammatory condition that can affect one or both lobes of the lung.

Here's what you need to know to ensure early diagnosis and the treatment necessary to help prevent complications.

Causes of Pneumonia

Pneumonia in adults is most commonly caused by bacterial infection, but can also be caused by viruses, fungi, and other microorganisms and substances that find their way into the lungs. According David Levine, MD, a New Jersey-based pediatrician, most cases of pneumonia in infants and children are viral. Other things you should know:

  • Pneumonia can develop on its own or as a follow-up to a cold or flu.
  • Pneumonia may be caused by fungi found in the soil in some parts of the country, or may be the result of weakened immunity from disease or medication.
  • Viral pneumonia can also lead to bacterial pneumonia
  • Aspiration pneumonia can develop when food, mucus, vomit, or other substances are accidentally inhaled and get into the lungs during a seizure, stroke, or state of unconsciousness, or when swallowing and coughing are difficult.

You may be at increased risk for pneumonia if...

  • You are exposed to a particularly dangerous bacteria or virus
  • Your immune system is compromised by another medical condition
  • You are unable to cough, clear your throat, or otherwise filter out germs before they reach your lungs

Symptoms of Pneumonia

Symptoms can vary from person to person, depending on a host of other factors, such as age, source of infection, and the presence of other illnesses.

Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • Fever of 102° or more that lasts several days
  • Persistent cough with phlegm
  • Feeling hot and cold; sweating and shivering
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain, especially when breathing

Sometimes, pneumonia may also bring on:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue

Treatment for Pneumonia

If you see signs or symptoms of pneumonia, it is important to contact a doctor right away. It may be necessary for the doctor to prescribe antibiotics to treat bacterial infections and prevent pneumonia from reoccurring. Temporary use of supplemental oxygen may be necessary in severe cases.

Self-care is also very important in the treatment of pneumonia.

  • Drink plenty of water and other fluids to prevent dehydration and dissolve phlegm in the lungs
  • Get plenty of bed rest to reduce stress and fatigue and strengthen the immune system.
  • Use over-the-counter medications as recommended by the doctor to reduce coughing and fever and soothe aches and pains.

David Levine, MD, reviewed this article.




David Levine, MD
Summit Medical Group
New Jersey

The Childrens' Hospital of Philadelphia: Pneumonia

National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute: What is Pneumonia?

University of Rochester Medical Center: Pneumonia