Pneumonitis is the general term for the inflammation of lung tissue; however pneumonitis caused by an infection is known as pneumonia. The condition is especially common among children, older adults, and people with impaired immune systems. In extreme cases, pneumonia can be life-threatening, so it’s recommended that those at high risk for contracting pneumonia get yearly vaccinations.
There are 2 main types of pneumonitis:
Infectious Pneumonitis aka Pneumonia – A lung infection that causes inflammation and swelling of the air sacs in the lungs. The type of infection can vary, and may include viruses, bacteria, and fungi. Bacterial infections include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenza type B, Chlamydia pneumoniae, Legionella spp., and Mycoplasma pneumoniae, while viral infections include respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and the influenza virus.
Non-Infectious Pneumonitis – This occurs from, for example, inhaling substances or toxins that irritate the lungs. Such substances include smoke, dust, and some volatile chemicals. Additionally, certain (few) antibiotics, chemotherapy drugs, and anti-arrhythmic medications can also produce pneumonitis.
Diagnosing pneumonia initially involves a thorough medical history review alongside checking for symptoms such as coughing with sputum production, fever, shortness of breath, and wheezing. The doctor will use a stethoscope to assess the lungs (auscultation) and may request a chest X-ray. Additionally, a blood test may be used to determine the cause of the pneumonia. The blood test may involve:
- White Blood Cell (WBC) Count– This can help determine if there is an infection from bacteria or a virus, although the test cannot identify the specific type of infection
- Blood Oxygen Level Test– This measures the ability of the lungs in getting oxygen into the blood
- Sputum and Blood Culture Tests – These tests determine the type of infectious agent
No matter the causative agent, symptoms are generally similar.
Symptoms of pneumonia may include:
- Coughing with phlegm
- Chest pain while breathing and coughing
- Rapid breathing / difficulty breathing
- Fever, sweating, chills
- Nausea, vomiting
- Obtundation (altered consciousness) and confusion, fall in body temperature in older adults
- Bloating, aversion to drinking water or milk in very young children
The severity of symptoms will vary from person to person depending on the specific causes of infection, age, and individual health
Treatment of pneumonia involves simultaneously treating the condition and preventing possible complications.
Treatment may include the following methods:
- Antibiotics – For bacterial infections, the doctor will prescribe antibiotics based on the type of bacterial infection, which is determined by cultures and clinical-epidemiological data. It is important to note that prolonged use of antibiotics can increase resistance of certain bacteria, such as Streptococcus pneumoniae.
- Symptom-based treatment – As symptoms present themselves, the doctor may prescribe fever-reducing medications, bronchodilators, and expectorants. Intravenous fluid and oxygen therapyor chest physical therapy (CPT) may be given in severe cases.
- Treatment of complications – Bacteria may travel from the lungs into the bloodstream to other organs. Some people may experience pleural effusion(fluid build-up in the space between the lungs and chest wall, which may need drainage) or lung abscesses. In severe cases, patients can experience potentially fatal respiratory failure and require breathing assistance.