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Bacterial Pneumonia

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Updated October 29, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What It Is:

Bacterial pneumonia is a type of pneumonia that is caused by bacteria.

Pneumonia can also be caused by viruses, fungi, chemicals and other organisms.

Causes:

Bacterial pneumonia can be caused by many different types of bacteria. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae
  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Legionella pneumophila
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Chlamydophila pneumoniae
  • Klebsiella pneumoniae
  • Haemophilus influenzae

Bacterial pneumonia can affect anyone of any age. It is most serious for infants, older adults (over age 65) and people with chronic medical conditions or weakened immune systems.

Symptoms:

Symptoms of bacterial pneumonia include:

  • Painful cough
  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain when breathing
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Confusion (serious symptom - seek medical attention)
  • Rapid breathing and pulse (serious symptom - seek medical attention)
  • Bluish color to lips or nailbeds indicates a lack of oxygen (serious symptoms - seek medical attention)

Course of Infection:

Bacterial pneumonia may come on faster, and with more significant symptoms, than other types of pneumonia.

People with bacterial pneumonia may have a high fever, profuse sweating, and rapid breathing. If the infections progresses quickly, the lips may turn a bluish color and confusion or delirium may occur due to a lack of oxygen.

Possible Complications:

We often hear that pneumonia itself is a complication of a cold or the flu. But pneumonia can get very serious and lead to even more life threatening illnesses. Complications of pneumonia include:

Treatment Options:

If your health care provider determines that you have bacterial pneumonia, he may prescribe antibiotics. Stronger antibiotics may be needed if you have certain medical conditions such as heart disease, COPD, diabetes or kidney disease.

In addition to antibiotics, medications to treat the symptoms of pneumonia may be needed. Pain relievers, fever reducers, and breathing treatments or inhalers may be needed, depending on the symptoms.

Some people who have bacterial pneumonia need to be hospitalized. This may occur when IV antibiotics are necessary, or a person needs additional oxygen.

If you have pneumonia but don't need to be hospitalized, you can take certain steps at home to help yourself feel better.

  • Get plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of fluids. This will help loosen mucus in your lungs so you can cough it up more efficiently.
  • Take over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol, Advil or aspirin to help with pain and fever. If you are taking other medications or have other medical conditions, discuss them with your health care provider before taking any OTC medications. Aspirin should never be given to a child under the age of 18 unless specifically instructed by his doctor.
  • Do not take cough medications unless your health care provider tells you to. Cough suppressants can actually worsen pneumonia or make it more difficult to cough up the mucus in your lungs.

Prevention:

Bacterial pneumonia can affect anyone at any time. There is no guaranteed way to prevent it completely, but taking certain steps can minimize your risk. Get your flu vaccine. Don't smoke. Wash your hands frequently.

If you are at high risk for developing pneumonia, there is a pneumonia vaccine that can protect you against certain types of the disease. Talk to your health care provider to determine if the vaccine is right for you.

Sources:

"Understanding Pneumonia." Lung Disease 2012. American Lung Association. 24 Oct 12.

"Symptoms, Diagnosis and Treatment." Lung Disease 2012. American Lung Association. 24 Oct 12.

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