Pneumonia is a common infection that inflames the alveoli (air sacs) in one or both lungs. Bacteria, viruses or fungi cause the air sacs in the lungs to fill with fluid or pus.

Overview and Symptoms

The symptoms of pneumonia range from mild to severe depending on the cause of infection, your age, and general health. Those most at risk for pneumonia are over 65, children under 5, people with chronic medical conditions, smokers and those with asthma.

Symptoms include:

  • discolored mucus
  • shortness of breath that increases during activity
  • shaking and chills
  • fatigue
  • chest Pain
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • muscle pain
  • high fever

Pneumonia is difficult to diagnose because symptoms typically resemble those of a cold or flu. Your physician will first ask about your symptoms and past health problems, and do a thorough physical examination. A blood test and chest X-ray can also tell your doctor if you need to be admitted for IV antibiotic treatment and or if you can be treated as an outpatient (without being admitted to the hospital). Your physician may also ask you to undergo additional specialized medical tests. These may include:

  • Bronchoscopy - A bronchoscope is a long, thin, flexible tube that enables a doctor to look into your airways. During the procedure, your dotor will examine your throat, larynx, trachea, and lower airways to look for damage in your airways.
  • Pulse Oximetry - A small, clip-like sensor attaches to your finger or earlobe to measure your oxygen level and heart rate.
  • Sputum Culture - A test that identifies whether the phlegm in your lungs is caused by bacteria or fungi.

Treatment

Pneumonia is treatable by curing the infection in your lungs and preventing additional complications. Specialty physicians will work closely with nurse practitioners, nurses, and respiratory and physical therapists to provide a personalized treatment plan depending on the type and severity of your infection, your age and your overall health.

Medications
  • Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial pneumonia. If your symptoms continue to worsen, however, you should contact your physician immediately.
  • Cough medicine is given to calm your cough so that you may rest. It is important not to eliminate your cough completely because coughing helps expel fluid from your lungs.
  • Fever reducers/pain relievers such as aspirin, acetaminophen and ibuprofen to treat fevers and lessen your discomfort.

You may be required to stay in the hospital if your symptoms worsen. Symptoms that may lead to hospitalization include below-normal body temperature, low blood pressure, declining kidney function, or poor difficulty breathing. Your doctor may admit you to the intensive care unit if you need to use a breathing machine (ventilator) or if your symptoms are specifically severe.

Surgery

For more severe cases when medications and hospitalization are not effective, you may benefit from surgical treatment. These may include:

  • Chest tubes that drain air, blood or fluid from the area surrounding your lungs (pleural space).
  • Lobectomy , removing the lobe in your lungs that is affected by pneumonia. Once the affected lobe is removed, the remaining healthy tissue can function normally.
  • Thoracotomy , which requires a surgical incision to open the chest cavity so that diseased and damaged lung tissue may be removed.

Learn More

The Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine provides comprehensive care for patients with critical illness, thoracic diseases and sleep-related disorders. We are committed to helping you breathe easier.

Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine

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The Chest Disease Center combines a team of highly skilled specialists with state-of-the-art facilities to provide multidisciplinary evaluation, treatment and care to patients who have benign (non-cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) lung diseases.

Chest Disease Center