Pneumonia symptoms

Bacterial pneumonia: symptoms, treatment and complications

Pneumonia is a serious lung condition caused by a virus, bacteria or fungus. It accounts for the highest number of deaths associated with infections in children.

It is a serious, rapidly growing (acute) respiratory infection that affects the small air sacs in the lungs, called the alveoli, causing them to fill with pus and fluid.

The alveoli work to exchange oxygen that is taken in by the lungs, transferring it to the blood for circulation throughout the body. When fluid is in the lungs, it interferes with this process, causing low oxygen levels in the body and making breathing difficult (and sometimes painful).

This article will explore the symptoms, causes, risk factors, diagnosis, treatment, prevention, complications, and prognosis of bacterial pneumonia.

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Symptoms of pneumonia

Symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild flu-like symptoms to serious breathing problems and serious complications. The severity of pneumonia depends on the particular type of bacteria causing the infection, a person’s general health, and their age. Children under 2 and adults over 65 have immune systems that are often not strong enough to fight off illnesses such as pneumonia.

Common symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:

  • Cough
  • high fever
  • Dyspnea (difficulty breathing)
  • Tachypnea (increased breathing rate)
  • Tachycardia (rapid heart rate)
  • Sweats and chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Articular pain

Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia. It is usually more serious than viral pneumonia and often requires medical intervention.

In bacterial pneumonia, the fever may suddenly rise to 105 degrees F, causing profuse sweating, rapid heart rate and increased breathing rate. A person may become confused or delirious, and the lips and nail beds are often slightly bluish due to lack of adequate oxygen.


There are typical and atypical bacterial causes of pneumonia, including the pathogens (germs) that are the underlying cause.

Typical bacterial pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia seen by healthcare providers. It is more serious than atypical pneumonia. Common bacterial causes of typical pneumonia include:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Group A streptococci
  • Moraxella catarrhalis
  • Anaerobes and Aerobic Gram Negative Bacteria

Atypical pneumonia is often called “walking pneumonia”. Its symptoms are much milder than typical pneumonia and are often caused by:

A person is more likely to be exposed to certain types of pathogens (bacteria) in different environments. For instance:

  • Legionella pneumonia usually comes from contaminated water and air conditioning systems.
  • Streptococcal pneumonia, mycobacteria, mycoplasma and chlamydia are are often found in crowded environments, such as homeless shelters and prisons.
  • Coxiella burnetii perhaps transmitted to humans by cats, sheep and cattle.
  • Chlamydia psittaci is often the result of exposure to birds such as turkeys, ducks and chickens.

Risk factors

People at high risk for bacterial pneumonia include:

  • Adults 65 and over
  • Children under 2 years old
  • People with certain medical conditions (including heart disease, asthma and other lung disorders, and HIV/AIDS)
  • Those with autoimmune diseases
  • Smokers
  • People receiving chemotherapy (cancer treatment)
  • Organ recipients (those who have had an organ transplant)
  • Pregnant women


Pneumonia can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often mimic those of disorders such as the common cold or the flu. To diagnose pneumonia, the healthcare provider will get a complete history, perform a physical exam, and perform certain tests.

Medical background

Because certain environments can expose a person to different pathogens (germs), the diagnostician will ask about frequent travel, exposure to various vectors (such as certain types of birds), as well as any close contact with other sick people.

Physical examination

A physical exam will be done to check for signs and symptoms of pneumonia. The healthcare provider will listen to the lungs with a stethoscope, watching for any telltale signs of pneumonia, such as wheezing, crackling, or rumbling when a person inhales or exhales.

Diagnostic tests

Several types of diagnostic tests can be done to diagnose pneumonia, including:


Treatment for bacterial pneumonia depends on the severity of symptoms, the type of pathogen (bacteria), and other factors. Most of the time, pneumonia can be treated at home, but in severe cases, hospitalization may be necessary.

Treatment may include:

  • Antibiotics
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Mechanical fans
  • Analgesic
  • Expectorants
  • Medicines to help relieve breathing problems

At-home instructions to promote recovery from bacterial pneumonia may include:

  • Controlling fever, often with over-the-counter fever reducers such as Tylenol
  • Eat healthy
  • Increase fluids
  • Get plenty of rest

Antibiotics for pneumonia

If you receive antibiotics as part of your pneumonia treatment modality, be sure to take them exactly as prescribed and complete your full prescription. Stopping antibiotic use halfway through the treatment regimen lends itself to superinfections (infection occurring on top of a previous infection) and creates bacteria that are ineffective at treating certain types of germs.


Vaccinations can help prevent certain types of bacterial pneumonia, including Streptococcus pneumoniae, the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia in children 3 months to 3 years old. The pneumococcal vaccine series begins at 2 months of age and is said to significantly reduce the rate of pneumonia caused by this bacteria.

The pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended for anyone at high risk of getting bacterial pneumonia (such as children under 5 and adults 65 and older).

Vaccinations for other childhood illnesses that can lead to bacterial pneumonia include those for:


Complications are conditions or symptoms caused by a person’s main illness. Complications of bacterial pneumonia can include:

  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome
  • Respiratory arrest
  • Lung abscesses
  • Sepsis
  • Bronchiectasis
  • Necrotizing pneumonia
  • Destruction and scarring of lung tissue
  • Emphysema
  • Bacteremia

Note that serious complications from pneumonia are more likely in immunocompromised or high-risk people (such as young children and the elderly).


Prognosis is the expected outcome of treatment, based on clinical research studies. The prognosis for bacterial pneumonia varies widely, depending on the type of pathogen causing the pneumonia, the age and general health of the person with pneumonia, and other factors.

A healthy adult usually recovers quickly from pneumonia when they receive proper care. But there can be long-term health issues, such as:

  • A decrease in normal ability to exercise
  • mental decline
  • Worsening of heart disease (for those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease)
  • A decline in overall quality of life (for months or even years)

In addition, children with pneumonia may develop chronic (long-term) lung problems.

Your health care provider can talk to you about your prognosis, based on your risk factors (if any), as well as other influences related to the prognosis of pneumonia.