Pneumonia: symptoms, risks, and treatment

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs with potentially serious consequences. This is why early diagnosis and adequate treatment are essential.

WHAT IS THE ROLE OF THE LUNGS?

Lungs are essential organs to life. Their main function is to provide oxygen to the bloodstream through respiration. This oxygen is then transported to different body cells, which allows them to function. Lungs also have the function of eliminating certain waste produced by the body, such as carbon dioxide (CO2).

The lungs are divided into sections, called "lobes". The right lung has three lobes and the left has two. Fresh air passes inside the lungs through a network of airways which includes the nose and bronchi.

At the end of this network, there are small air sacks, called “alveoli”, which ensure the exchange of oxygen and CO2 with the blood.

WHAT IS PNEUMONIA?

Pneumonia is a serious infection because it prevents the lungs from functioning normally. It causes an accumulation of fluid (pus, secretions) in the alveoli, thus preventing gas exchanges (oxygen and CO2) with the blood. The ensuing lack of oxygen can have harmful consequences by hindering the proper functioning of various cells.

The repercussions of pneumonia usually vary depending on various factors, including the patient’s age, health, and the degree of severity of the infection. While some patients can receive treatment at home, others must be hospitalized. In some specific cases, pneumonia can be fatal. Therefore, it is important to treat it quickly.

WHAT ARE THE CAUSES OF PNEUMONIA?

Pneumonia is most often caused by a viruses or bacteria. When an infection occurs, the body sets off an inflammatory response to fight off invaders. In some rare cases, pneumonia can be attributed to fungus or mold.

Some individuals are more at risk of suffering from pneumonia, among others:

  • children
  • elderly people
  • individuals who suffer from respiratory diseases (asthmacystic fibrosis, emphysema, etc.)
  • smokers
  • individuals whose immune system is weak due to various conditions (HIVdiabetescancer, etc.)

A recent viral infection, such as the flu, also predisposes one to pneumonia.

WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PNEUMONIA?

It is important to know how to recognize the symptoms of pneumonia, since early diagnosis increases the chances of healing. The following symptoms are among the ones to watch out for:

  • fever and chills
  • coughing
  • shortness of breath or wheezing
  • rapid breathing and pulse
  • coloured expectoration (sputum)
  • back or chest pain, especially when breathing in
  • fatigue or weakness
  • headaches

See a doctor immediately if these symptoms or any other unusual symptoms occur. Each year in Canada, individuals die from pneumonia.

HOW CAN PNEUMONIA BE TREATED?

If you are suffer from pneumonia caused by bacteria, an antibiotic will be prescribed to you. This type of medication helps fight the bacteria in question if it is taken properly. Your pharmacist can be of great help by making sure that you take your medication as prescribed, by answering your questions and providing general advice.

If the pneumonia is caused by a virus, an antibiotic will be of no help. Therefore, the medical approach will consist of treating the symptoms. For instance, medication such as acetaminophen will be useful to relieve fever. In some cases, medications taken with inhalers (pumps) can be prescribed to dilate the respiratory tract or reduce inflammation of the lungs to make breathing easier. If this is the case, your pharmacist can advise you on how to use inhalers.

Cough syrups are not recommended in the case of pneumonia; by preventing coughing, cough syrups hamper the elimination of secretions present in the respiratory tract. If you are considering to use one, it is better to talk to your pharmacist first.

WHAT MORE CAN YOU DO?

In addition to the treatments recommended by your doctor or pharmacist, some measures can help you get better faster:

  • Rest and avoid demanding activities
  • Drink plenty of liquids
  • Avoid exposure to cold air and pollutants, such as cigarette smoke

Don’t hesitate to ask your pharmacist for additional information about pneumonia and its treatment.

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Pneumonia: symptoms, risks, and treatment

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs with potentially serious consequences. This is why early diagnosis and adequate treatment are essential.
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