Pneumonia

Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of one or both lungs that is usually caused by an infection. Pneumonia can be life-threatening. It’s a leading cause of death and hospitalization in seniors and in people with chronic diseases.

Many different germs can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When you breathe in these germs, they can settle in the alveoli (air sacs) in your lungs and cause an infection.

When your lungs become infected, the alveoli fill with pus and mucus, blocking oxygen from getting into your bloodstream. As you work harder to breathe in more oxygen, you can feel short of breath. The swelling and infection also cause many other pneumonia symptoms like cough, fever and chest pain.

Many different germs can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When we breathe in these germs, we can usually fight them off with our immune system and cough them out of our lungs. However, some people have a weakened immune system or can’t cough out the germs very well, and they end up getting an infection.

The main causes of pneumonia:

  • Exposure to a germ (bacteria, virus, fungus)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Not able to cough out the germs/mucus from your lungs
  • Pneumonia is occasionally caused by inhaling chemicals (fumes, liquids, particles) in the workplace.
  • Unintentionally aspirating (inhaling) food or vomit into your lungs can cause “aspiration pneumonia”.

Some of the germs that cause pneumonia are easily spread from one person to another. They are carried in the nose and throat of an infected person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spray drops of infected saliva (spit) into the air around them. A person who breathes in that air can get pneumonia.

There are many things you can do to lower your risk of getting pneumonia. Not smoking is an important way to help prevent pneumonia. People who smoke, and children whose parents smoke, are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia.

Pneumococcal vaccinations help protect you against invasive pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection) and meningitis (infection of the membrane surrounding your brain and spinal cord).

Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination. For details on when the pneumococcal vaccinations are required, starting at two months of age, see Ontario’s Routine Immunization Schedule. Some adults may need it every five years. Prevention of pneumonia through immunization is even more important now since some infections have become more resistant to antibiotics.

How to reduce your risk of getting pneumonia

  • If you smoke, try to quit—smoke damages the natural defenses in your lungs (e.g., cilia) that protect you from infections
  • Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination
  • Get the flu vaccination each year—since pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu, the flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of both the flu and pneumonia
  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Wash your hands regularly—when soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • If you have an underlying condition that increases your risk of pneumonia (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis), make sure it’s kept under control
  • If you are at a higher risk from pneumonia and you get a cough, fever or shortness of breath, see your health-care provider right away.
  • Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet can strengthen your immune system.

Help prevent the spread of infections:

  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue then throw it away right after use and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze and cough into your sleeve.
  • If you have a cold or the flu, stay home from work, school and public places
  • Regularly clean common areas of your home (e.g., door handles, light switches, hand rails, taps, remote controls, keyboards)

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary depending on your age and what type of pneumonia you have. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. The most common symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Fever
  • Chill
  • Cough
  • Yellow-green phlegm (mucus)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired and unwell
  • Chest pain

If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to see your health-care provider right away. Since symptoms can vary depending on your age, see your health-care provider if you notice any health-related changes.

If you have a chronic condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, you may also notice a worsening of your condition.

Your health-care provider may suspect pneumonia after asking you what symptoms you have and for how long you’ve had them. A physical exam, including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope for abnormal sounds, can help with the diagnosis.

If your health-care provider suspects you may have pneumonia, the following tests can help confirm the diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray can show a pneumonia infection, where it is located, and how much of your lungs are affected
  • Measuring the oxygen level in your blood with an oximeter may show a lower level than normal since pneumonia makes it more difficult for your lungs to transfer oxygen into your bloodstream
  • A blood test may sometimes be used to help determine if there is an infection
  • A sputum test (sample of mucus from your lungs) may sometimes be used to help determine the type of infection

Your health-care provider may send you for other tests if required.

If you have any regular symptoms, see your health-care provider to be assessed as soon as possible.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics if your pneumonia is suspected to be caused by a bacteria. Antibiotics do not treat viral pneumonia.
  • Rest at home
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Corticosteroid medication
  • Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication)

Most people with pneumonia can manage their condition at home with guidance and medication from their health-care provider. Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication).

People who have been admitted to the hospital with other medical conditions and develop pneumonia may become very ill and may need strong antibiotics.

If you are prescribed antibiotics it’s important to take them as directed by your health-care provider, even if you start to feel better. Do not take cough or cold medication unless approved by your health-care provider.

If you have mild pneumonia, you will usually begin to feel better within a few days or a week. If you have severe pneumonia where you spend time in the hospital, it may take several weeks before you feel better.

What causes pneumonia?

Certain germs (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi) are the main causes of pneumonia. Most healthy people can usually fight off these germs. However some people are more susceptible to these germs, less able to fight them off and therefore more likely to get pneumonia.

Occasionally pneumonia is caused by a workplace exposure, or unintentionally aspirating (inhaling) food or vomit into the lungs.

How is pneumonia treated?

If you have any regular symptoms, see your health-care provider to be assessed as soon as possible. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics if your pneumonia is suspected to be caused by bacteria
  • Rest at home
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Corticosteroid medication
  • Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication)

How can you prevent pneumonia?

  • If you smoke, try to quit—smoke damages the natural defenses in your lungs (e.g., cilia) that protect you from infections
  • Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination
  • Get the flu vaccination each year—since pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu, the flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of both the flu and pneumonia
  • Wash your hands regularly—when soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • If you have an underlying condition that increases your risk of pneumonia (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis), make sure it’s kept under control
  • If you are at a higher risk from pneumonia and you get a cough, fever or shortness of breath, see your health-care provider right away.
  • Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet can strengthen your immune system.

How do I know if I have pneumonia?

Since symptoms can vary depending on your age, see your health-care provider if you notice any health-related changes. Although in some people (e.g., very young, very old) sometimes there are no obvious symptoms of pneumonia, these are the most common:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Yellow-green phlegm (mucus)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired and unwell
  • Chest pain

What is “walking pneumonia”?

When you have pneumonia but the symptoms are mild enough that you do not feel the need to stay home, this is sometimes referred to as “walking pneumonia”. You may not even know you have pneumonia since it can feel just like a cold. If you have any regular symptoms—even mild—that do not go away, see your health-care provider.

Many different germs can cause pneumonia, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. When we breathe in these germs, we can usually fight them off with our immune system and cough them out of our lungs. However, some people have a weakened immune system or can’t cough out the germs very well, and they end up getting an infection.

The main causes of pneumonia:

  • Exposure to a germ (bacteria, virus, fungus)
  • Weakened immune system
  • Not able to cough out the germs/mucus from your lungs
  • Pneumonia is occasionally caused by inhaling chemicals (fumes, liquids, particles) in the workplace.
  • Unintentionally aspirating (inhaling) food or vomit into your lungs can cause “aspiration pneumonia”.

Some of the germs that cause pneumonia are easily spread from one person to another. They are carried in the nose and throat of an infected person. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they spray drops of infected saliva (spit) into the air around them. A person who breathes in that air can get pneumonia.

There are many things you can do to lower your risk of getting pneumonia. Not smoking is an important way to help prevent pneumonia. People who smoke, and children whose parents smoke, are at a higher risk of getting pneumonia.

Pneumococcal vaccinations help protect you against invasive pneumococcal infections such as pneumonia, bacteremia (blood infection) and meningitis (infection of the membrane surrounding your brain and spinal cord).

Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination. For details on when the pneumococcal vaccinations are required, starting at two months of age, see Ontario’s Routine Immunization Schedule. Some adults may need it every five years. Prevention of pneumonia through immunization is even more important now since some infections have become more resistant to antibiotics.

How to reduce your risk of getting pneumonia

  • If you smoke, try to quit—smoke damages the natural defenses in your lungs (e.g., cilia) that protect you from infections
  • Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination
  • Get the flu vaccination each year—since pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu, the flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of both the flu and pneumonia
  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • Wash your hands regularly—when soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • If you have an underlying condition that increases your risk of pneumonia (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis), make sure it’s kept under control
  • If you are at a higher risk from pneumonia and you get a cough, fever or shortness of breath, see your health-care provider right away.
  • Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet can strengthen your immune system.

Help prevent the spread of infections:

  • Sneeze and cough into a tissue then throw it away right after use and wash your hands. If you don’t have a tissue, sneeze and cough into your sleeve.
  • If you have a cold or the flu, stay home from work, school and public places
  • Regularly clean common areas of your home (e.g., door handles, light switches, hand rails, taps, remote controls, keyboards)

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia vary depending on your age and what type of pneumonia you have. Symptoms can range from mild to very severe. The most common symptoms of pneumonia:

  • Fever
  • Chill
  • Cough
  • Yellow-green phlegm (mucus)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired and unwell
  • Chest pain

If you have any of these symptoms it’s important to see your health-care provider right away. Since symptoms can vary depending on your age, see your health-care provider if you notice any health-related changes.

If you have a chronic condition such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or asthma, you may also notice a worsening of your condition.

Your health-care provider may suspect pneumonia after asking you what symptoms you have and for how long you’ve had them. A physical exam, including listening to your lungs with a stethoscope for abnormal sounds, can help with the diagnosis.

If your health-care provider suspects you may have pneumonia, the following tests can help confirm the diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray can show a pneumonia infection, where it is located, and how much of your lungs are affected
  • Measuring the oxygen level in your blood with an oximeter may show a lower level than normal since pneumonia makes it more difficult for your lungs to transfer oxygen into your bloodstream
  • A blood test may sometimes be used to help determine if there is an infection
  • A sputum test (sample of mucus from your lungs) may sometimes be used to help determine the type of infection

Your health-care provider may send you for other tests if required.

If you have any regular symptoms, see your health-care provider to be assessed as soon as possible.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics if your pneumonia is suspected to be caused by a bacteria. Antibiotics do not treat viral pneumonia.
  • Rest at home
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Corticosteroid medication
  • Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication)

Most people with pneumonia can manage their condition at home with guidance and medication from their health-care provider. Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication).

People who have been admitted to the hospital with other medical conditions and develop pneumonia may become very ill and may need strong antibiotics.

If you are prescribed antibiotics it’s important to take them as directed by your health-care provider, even if you start to feel better. Do not take cough or cold medication unless approved by your health-care provider.

If you have mild pneumonia, you will usually begin to feel better within a few days or a week. If you have severe pneumonia where you spend time in the hospital, it may take several weeks before you feel better.

What causes pneumonia?

Certain germs (e.g., bacteria, viruses, fungi) are the main causes of pneumonia. Most healthy people can usually fight off these germs. However some people are more susceptible to these germs, less able to fight them off and therefore more likely to get pneumonia.

Occasionally pneumonia is caused by a workplace exposure, or unintentionally aspirating (inhaling) food or vomit into the lungs.

How is pneumonia treated?

If you have any regular symptoms, see your health-care provider to be assessed as soon as possible. Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics if your pneumonia is suspected to be caused by bacteria
  • Rest at home
  • Plenty of fluids
  • Corticosteroid medication
  • Some people with severe pneumonia may need to go to the hospital to have additional support (e.g., oxygen, intravenous medication)

How can you prevent pneumonia?

  • If you smoke, try to quit—smoke damages the natural defenses in your lungs (e.g., cilia) that protect you from infections
  • Ask your health-care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccination
  • Get the flu vaccination each year—since pneumonia can be a complication of getting the flu, the flu vaccine helps reduce the risk of both the flu and pneumonia
  • Wash your hands regularly—when soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol
  • Stay away from people who are sick
  • If you have an underlying condition that increases your risk of pneumonia (e.g., chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, asthma, bronchiectasis, cystic fibrosis), make sure it’s kept under control
  • If you are at a higher risk from pneumonia and you get a cough, fever or shortness of breath, see your health-care provider right away.
  • Regular exercise, adequate sleep and a healthy diet can strengthen your immune system.

How do I know if I have pneumonia?

Since symptoms can vary depending on your age, see your health-care provider if you notice any health-related changes. Although in some people (e.g., very young, very old) sometimes there are no obvious symptoms of pneumonia, these are the most common:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Yellow-green phlegm (mucus)
  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling very tired and unwell
  • Chest pain

What is “walking pneumonia”?

When you have pneumonia but the symptoms are mild enough that you do not feel the need to stay home, this is sometimes referred to as “walking pneumonia”. You may not even know you have pneumonia since it can feel just like a cold. If you have any regular symptoms—even mild—that do not go away, see your health-care provider.