Pneumonia is a potentially serious chest infection which causes inflammation of the tissue in one or both lungs and is usually caused by a bacterial infection. Around 8 in 1000 people in the UK get pneumonia each year which is more common during autumn and winter.
In most instances the condition can be cured but is regarded as more serious and potentially life threatening in the elderly and young children.
The most common form is a bacterium called ‘streptococcus pneumoniae’ which is less contagious than flu or a cold and is generally dealt with by the body’s immune system before any infection is caused.
Aside to bacterial pneumonia other types include viral pneumonia, aspirational pneumonia, fungal pneumonia and hospital acquired pneumonia.
Symptoms of pneumonia are similar to flu and a chest infection and can develop quickly over 24 – 48 hrs or over a several day period.
More common symptoms might include;
- Difficulty breathing
- Rapid or shallow breathing
- Faster heartbeat
- Chest pain or discomfort, particularly when coughing
- Loss of appetite
- Coughing up mucus
- A high temperature often accompanied by sweats and shivering
If you feel unwell with any severe symptoms, particularly chest pain, a rapid heartbeat, quick breathing, shivers or confusion you are advised to seek urgent advice from your GP or call 999.
Risk groups include people over 65 years of age, people with cancer, especially those having chemotherapy, people with long-term heart, lung and kidney disease or diabetes, people who smoke or drink alcohol to excess and babies and young children.
Your GP is able to diagnose pneumonia based upon your symptoms, medical history and following examination which would involve listening to your chest with a stethoscope and taking your temperature. Other tests including a chest x-ray or sputum sample might be required with a ‘follow up’ appointment if symptoms don’t improve. Early diagnosis and treatment is essential and in the more serious instances will necessitate treatment at hospital with drip fed fluid, antibiotics and oxygen.