Pneumonia causes

Causes, symptoms and treatment of pneumonia

By Dr Srinivas Jakka

Pneumonia continues to be the leading killer of children globally, with India accounting for 20% of these deaths and a higher burden of childhood pneumonia than any other country. At present, India has the largest population of children (

To enable these children to lead healthy and productive lives, it is imperative to mitigate the challenge of pneumonia through the implementation of multifaceted preventive measures. Several policies, including improving nutrition and reducing pollution, that could reduce the incidence of pneumonia, according to Dr Srinivas Jakka, MD (pediatrics), pediatrics, pulmonology and allergy consultant Ankura Hospitals for women and children


  • Pneumonia accounts for 15% of all deaths of children under 5, killing 808,694 children per year
  • is the world’s deadliest child killer, with a “forgotten epidemic” that kills a young person every 39 seconds,
  • Pneumonia can be caused by viruses, bacteria or fungi.
  • Pneumonia can be prevented by vaccination, proper nutrition and addressing environmental factors.
  • Pneumonia caused by bacteria can be treated with antibiotics, but only a third of children with pneumonia receive the antibiotics they need.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that can be caused by viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites. Pneumonia is a secondary disease that develops because the viral or bacterial disease was there first. Often pneumonia begins after a cold, with symptoms starting after 2 or 3 days of a cold or sore throat

How do children get pneumonia?

Infection occurs when someone who is already infected coughs and releases germs into the air. By breathing in such contaminated air, children get an infection of the lungs. Sometimes a child can have an upper respiratory infection (a common cold and cough) which can progress to pneumonia. Children with underlying immune problems and various chronic illnesses may be at particular risk of developing pneumonia.

Who gets pneumonia?

Anyone can get pneumonia, but some children are at greater risk than others. Children who are more likely to get pneumonia include:

  • Children with chronic illnesses, such as heart or lung problems
  • Children with asthma
  • Infants born prematurely
  • Children with weakened immune systems, such as those who are HIV positive

The following environmental factors also increase a child’s susceptibility to pneumonia:

  • indoor air pollution caused by cooking and heating with biomass fuels (such as wood or manure)
  • live in overcrowded houses
  • parental smoking.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Cough, which may produce greenish, yellow, or even bloody mucus.

Fever, sweating and chills.

Shortness of breath.

Rapid, shallow breathing.

Sharp or shooting pain in the chest that gets worse when you take a deep breath or cough.

Loss of appetite, lack of energy and fatigue.

How is the diagnosis confirmed?

The diagnosis can be confirmed by listening to the chest and supported by a chest x-ray. Sometimes more investigations may be needed depending on the severity of the disease.

When should children be admitted to the hospital?

Mild cases of pneumonia can be managed at home. However, severe cases of pneumonia and those with warning signs should be admitted and treated in hospital. Warning signs include severe shortness of breath, low oxygen levels, poor diet, lethargy, fits, etc.

How to prevent pneumonia in children?

Pneumonia can be prevented by the following measures:

· Hand hygiene prevents person-to-person transmission, whether at home or at school.

· Timely vaccines prevent serious infections.

Avoiding sending children to school during infections will prevent the spread to other children

· Adequate nutrition is essential to improve children’s natural defenses, starting with exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. In addition to being effective in preventing pneumonia, it also helps reduce the duration of illness if a child becomes ill.

Addressing environmental factors such as indoor air pollution (by providing clean, affordable indoor stoves, for example) and encouraging good hygiene in crowded homes also reduces the number of children who get sick with pneumonia.

In children infected with HIV, the antibiotic cotrimoxazole is given daily to decrease the risk of getting pneumonia.

The author is a doctor (pediatrics), consultant in pediatrics, pulmonology and allergy to Ankura hospitals for women and children