Bacterial Pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is a type of lung infection that’s caused by bacteria. Anyone can get pneumonia, but you have a higher risk for it if you’re over the age of sixty-five or have a weak immune system.

Causes

When you breathe, air travels through your mouth or nose and into your throat. From there, it goes down your windpipe. Your windpipe branches into two tubes called bronchial tubes. Your bronchial tubes branch several more times in your lungs, and then end in tiny sacs called alveoli. Your body gets oxygen from your alveoli.

Small particles, including bacteria, are in the air you breathe every day. Most don’t make it to your lungs because of your body’s natural defenses. Some particles get caught in your nose and throat, while others get trapped in mucus as they go through your airways. Fine, hair-like structures called cilia move the trapped particles up and out of your lungs.  Your immune system fights bacteria and other germs that make it into your lungs. Pneumonia occurs when germs overcome your immune system.

Many different types of bacteria can cause pneumonia. In the U-S, a bacterium called Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common cause of bacterial pneumonia. This bacterium causes pneumococcal pneumonia.

The infection you have with pneumonia causes inflammation. This makes your alveoli swell and fill with fluid. Fluid in your alveoli makes it hard for you to breathe.

Smoking makes it difficult for your cilia to work, so you’re more likely to get pneumonia if you smoke. Lung disease, diabetes, and other health problems can all increase your risk for pneumonia. So can having a weakened immune system. Pneumonia can also happen after you get the flu.

Symptoms

Some of the symptoms you might get with bacterial pneumonia include:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cough
  • Coughing up mucus
  • Difficulty breathing, and
  • Chest pain

Diagnosis

If you have these symptoms, you should see your healthcare provider. During your exam, your provider will pay special attention to your lungs. Your provider may order X-rays to look for build-up in your lungs, and order blood tests to check for a high white blood cell count, which can signal an infection.  Tests known as blood cultures can help your provider find out if your infection is caused by bacteria.

Treatment

Bacterial pneumonia is generally treated with medications called antibiotics, which kill bacteria. Although you may feel better in a few days, it’s important to finish all of your antibiotics.

If you have other health problems, or if your symptoms are severe, you may need treatment at the hospital. You also may need to go to the hospital if your symptoms don’t improve after you start antibiotics. At the hospital, you might be given stronger antibiotics through an I-V. You will be monitored regularly. If your blood isn’t carrying enough oxygen, you may be given extra oxygen to breathe. If your pneumonia is very serious, you might need a machine to help you breathe.

You can be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. This vaccine lasts for five years. It’s recommended that people over the age of sixty-five and children under five get this vaccination. The vaccine is also recommended for people with certain diseases and for smokers. Vaccines can help reduce your risk of getting pneumonia.

Annual influenza vaccinations reduce your risk of getting the flu. Because pneumonia can occur as a result of the flu, flu vaccines also reduce your risk for pneumonia. It’s recommended that everyone over the age of six months get an annual flu vaccination.

Things to Remember

Pneumonia can be a serious illness.

Always finish all your medications, as prescribed.

Vaccines help prevent bacterial pneumonia.

What We Have Learned

  1. You don’t need to finish all your antibiotics if you feel better after a day or two. True or False?
    The answer is False. It’s important to finish all of the antibiotics your provider has prescribed.

  2. Your risk of getting bacterial pneumonia is increased if you’re over the age of sixty-five or have a weak immune system. True or False?
    The answer is True. You can reduce your risk by getting vaccinated against pneumonia.

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