Pneumonia, causes, symptoms, treatments

Pneumonia: the causes, symptoms, treatments, prevention

What is it

Pneumonia is an inflammatory process that affects the lungs and generally has an acute or sub-acute course.

Pneumonia can develop in a completely healthy person, but most often conditions predisposing to infections are present (for example, impaired cough reflex, changes in bronchial secretion and vibrating cilia).

Finally, it should be remembered that the impairment of the immune system resulting from debilitating chronic diseases or pharmacological treatments (cortisone, cytostatics), as well as the hospital stay are factors that increase the risk of contracting bronchopulmonary infections.


In most cases the origin of pneumonia is infectious and only in a small minority is due to other causes (e.g. foreign body inhalation, chest trauma).

Infectious pneumonias are mainly classified into bacterial (contracted by air, i.e. by inhalation) and pneumonia by other etiological or “atypical” agents, due for example to influenza virus, adenovirus, herpes virus, respiratory syncytial virus, Mycoplasma pneumoniae, Rickettsia and Chlamydia.

The most common bacterial pneumonias are those from:

Causative agent Features
Pneumococcal Pneumonia is commonly preceded by a viral infection of the upper airways
Staphylococcus aureus Pneumonia generally manifests itself as a complication during large influenza epidemics
Klebsiella pneumoniae Pneumonia can cause very serious pictures with mortality that can reach 30% of cases
Pseudomonas aeruginosa Pneumonia occurs in weak individuals, children, or those who have undergone prolonged antibiotic therapy

Non-bacterial forms are gaining considerable epidemiological importance: today they account for about 50% of all lung infections.

A separate chapter is instead concerning lung infections linked to patients with marked depression of the immune system for which the most important pathogens are represented by CytomegalovirusPneumocystis carinii (especially in subjects with HIV) and some fungi including Candida and Aspergillus.

Most common symptoms

The most frequent symptoms of pneumonia are: catarrosa cough, fever with chills, more acute chest pains with breathing movements that become shorter and more superficial, decreased appetite and fatigability.

Pneumonia can affect only one lobe of the lung (lobar pneumonia) or multiple areas (broncho-pneumonia at isolated or multiple outbreaks); in the most extensive forms, respiratory failure may occur, with a variable degree of oxygen deficiency in the blood; In some cases, pneumonia may be associated with pleural effusion with pleurisy.

Diagnosis includes radiological (radiography, tomography), microbiological (sputum or pleural fluid culture, blood culture) and endoscopic (bronchoscopy, particularly useful in immunosuppressed subjects).


Complications of pneumonia are: formation of lung abscess, septicemia (as a result of the spread of pathogens to the whole organism), pulmonary embolism , renal failure .

It is important to underline that every year pneumonia claims about 7,000 victims in Italy, and 50% of deaths can be attributed to pneumococcus.

People with chronic illnesses and the elderly are the most vulnerable: between 5 and 10% of over-65s are hospitalized for pneumonia.

The cure

The basic therapy involves the use of specific antibacterial or Antiviral Drugs for the agent in question, which must be prescribed by the doctor, hydration, bed rest and symptomatic treatments (antipyretics, mucolytics).

In case of worsening, hospitalization and possible use of oxygen therapy are necessary.

When to see your doctor

The doctor should be consulted in case of fever associated with persistent cough, difficulty breathing and reduced tolerance to exercise .

The doctor is also essential for prevention: the flu and pneumococcal vaccines are two fundamental aids in both adults and children.

Joycelyn Elders is the author and creator of EmpowerEssence, a health and wellness blog. Elders is a respected public health advocate and pediatrician dedicated to promoting general health and well-being.

The blog covers a wide range of topics related to health and wellness, with articles organized into several categories.

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