How do you get pneumonia? Most of the germs that cause infection are passed from person to person through droplets, coughing or sneezing.
Young children and people over 65 are most vulnerable to pneumonia, notes the Mayo Clinic. (4)
According to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), you are also at a higher risk for pneumonia if you have any of the following conditions: (5)
People who smoke are also at a much higher risk of pneumonia, regardless of their age, and the disease is more likely to afflict men and African Americans.
People who are in frequent close contact with others, such as students and military personnel, are also more susceptible to the disease.
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What types of pneumonia are there?
The severity of the infection depends on many factors, including your age and general health.
“Many aspects of the treatment, as well as the results, depend on the person, as well as the type of pneumonia they have,” says Dr. Barron. “Sometimes you will be fine with rest, but if you have difficulty breathing you should see a doctor immediately. “
Your doctors will try to categorize your type of pneumonia to help guide your treatment.
Here’s what you need to know about the different types of pneumonia:
Community acquired pneumonia
Also known as PAC, it is the most common form of pneumonia because you can get it in public places, such as at school or at work. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, according to the National Library of Medicine. (6)
You can also develop CAP after getting a common viral infection, such as a cold or the flu.
The disease ranges from mild to severe and, if left untreated, can lead to respiratory failure or death.
Bacterial CAP is generally more serious than other types and is more common in adults. Atypical pneumonia, often called foot pneumonia, is a milder form often caused by the bacteria Mycoplasma pneumoniae. Symptoms of walking pneumonia include a sore throat, a persistent dry cough, fatigue, headache and fever, according to the Cleveland Clinic. (7)
Viral and bacterial pneumonia share some common signs, but doctors can sometimes tell them apart by a patient’s symptoms.
Various types of bacteria can be responsible for the disease. In most cases, the bacteria enter the lungs when inhaled and then travel into the bloodstream, potentially causing damage to other organs and systems in the body.
Streptococcus pneumoniae, also known as pneumococcal pneumonia, can be treated with antibiotics. But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many types of bacteria, some of which S. pneumoniae (pneumococcus), are resistant to these antibiotics, which can lead to treatment failures. (8) Pneumococcal pneumonia causes approximately 150,000 hospitalizations per year in the United States.
You can also have a pneumococcal infection without having pneumonia. For example, pneumococcal infections also cause more than three million ear infections in children each year.
Risk factors for bacterial CAP include:
- Have an underlying lung disease, such as asthma or COPD
- Have a systemic disease, such as diabetes
- Have a weakened immune system
- Being very young or very old
- Be disabled
- Alcohol abuse
Depending on your condition and whether or not you have other health problems, your doctor may treat you for suspected bacterial pneumonia with antibiotics at home or in the hospital.
Viral CAP, especially respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), is the most common cause of pneumonia in children under one year of age, according to the CDC. (9)
Although viral pneumonia is generally less severe than bacterial pneumonia, viral infections caused by certain influenza viruses, such as H1N1, and coronaviruses, such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), can be very serious.
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Antibiotics are ineffective against viral pneumonia. Your doctor will most likely treat the symptoms – fever, cough, and dehydration.
You or your child may need to be hospitalized if your symptoms of viral pneumonia get worse.
Fungal CAP is more common in people with an underlying health problem or weakened immune system, including people with HIV or acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS) and people undergoing cancer treatment. (5)
Getting vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia reduces the risk of CAP.
As the name suggests, this develops during a hospital stay for a different health problem. People who use machines to help them breathe are particularly susceptible to developing hospital acquired pneumonia.
Hospital-acquired pneumonia usually needs to be treated in hospital with intravenous antibiotics.
It can develop after a person inhales food, liquids, gases, or dust.
A strong gag reflex or cough will usually prevent aspiration pneumonia, but you may be at risk if you have trouble swallowing or if your level of alertness decreases.
A form of aspiration pneumonia, chemical or toxin-related pneumonia, is caused by inhaling chemical fumes, for example from exposure to a mixture of ammonia and bleach, or by inhaling kerosene or another harmful chemical.
This type of pneumonia can also occur in older people with poor swallowing mechanisms, such as stroke victims, who can actually inhale the acidic contents of their stomachs, causing aspiration pneumonia.
This causes inflammation without bacterial infection. These pneumonia can sometimes be difficult to treat, especially because the patients are sicker to begin with.
After your lungs have been irritated by inhaling food or stomach contents, a bacterial infection may develop.
Some conditions that may put you at risk for aspiration pneumonia include:
Symptoms of aspiration pneumonia include coughing, increased sputum, fever, confusion, and shortness of breath.
Treatment may include respiratory support and intravenous antibiotics given in the hospital.
You can prevent complications by not eating or drinking before surgery, working with a therapist to learn how to swallow without sucking, and avoiding excessive alcohol consumption.
Finally, pneumonia that develops in people with weakened immune systems is often referred to as an opportunistic infection.
You are more at risk of getting this type of pneumonia if you have chronic lung disease, have HIV or AIDS, or have had an organ transplant.