Exploration into Pneumonia

Updated: Jul 25

Pneumonia is a leading cause of short-term mortality, usually 30 days after diagnosis; however, the long-term effects of pneumonia remain an area of intense evaluation [2].

Author: Abtin Zaker

Pneumonia (/nuːˈməʊniə/) is a respiratory disease that causes an infection in the lungs which fills the alveoli with pus [1]. Pus is a thick fluid which contains dead tissues, cells, and bacteria [2]. Pneumonia is still a dangerous threat to the public, even in developed nations around the world [3]. According to the CDC, over 40,000 people died from pneumonia in the United States in 2019 alone [3]. More significantly, pneumonia is the leading cause of worldwide death for children under the age of five [4]. The symptoms of pneumonia may vary from mild to severe based on different factors such as age, overall health, and the type of microorganism causing the infection [4]. Some of these symptoms include chest pain when you breathe or cough, shortness of breath, wet cough, high fever, sweating, shaking chills, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting [5].

Transmission & Effects of Pneumonia

Pneumonia is a contagious disease and the main transmission pathways are water droplets from a sneeze or a cough, or the surface of contaminated objects [2]. Several infectious agents can cause different forms of pneumonia: bacterial, which is often more severe; fungal, which has been observed more in people with weakened immune systems (immunodeficient); and viral, which is typically milder with a gradual appearance of symptoms [2].

Pneumonia is a leading cause of short-term mortality, usually 30 days after diagnosis; however, the long-term effects of pneumonia remain an area of intense evaluation [2]. Most studies have shown that the most vulnerable group of people and the most severely affected are infants from birth to two years old and adults aged 65 years and older [2].

Long-Term Effects on Infants & Children

It is estimated that, each year, 120 million children who are five years old or younger contract pneumonia, resulting in one million deaths globally [7]. Within this age group, the lungs are under an extensive and critical development period, which consists of increases in airway dimensions and alveoli numbers [7]. This means a severe case of pneumonia can cause lifelong breathing complications for this age group [7]. The inflammation in the lungs caused by pneumonia can create airway dysfunction, which can lead to asthma attacks, as well as bronchiectasis and COPD [7-9].

Is Pneumonia a Respiratory-Specific Disease?

The short answer is no. It is true that pneumonia typically affects one or both lungs; however, if pneumonia is not treated, the infection caused by this disease can enter the bloodstream, known as septicemia, causing severe complications for other parts of the body [8,10]. Septicemia can cause the infection to spread to different body organs, like the liver and kidneys, leading to organ failure, or, in extreme cases, death [5,10].

Preventing pneumonia

Fortunately, with the advances in medicine, a vaccine was found to prevent the contraction of pneumonia [11]. Although vaccination substantially reduces the risks of suffering the negative consequences of this disease, it does not prevent transmission [11]. One way of preventing transmission is frequently washing your hands, especially after blowing your nose, going to the bathroom, and before and after eating and preparing food [11]. Avoiding smoking is also an alternative method of prevention since it has been found that smokers have a much higher chance of contracting pneumonia. Lastly, being aware of and maintaining your general health by engaging in a healthy diet, regular exercise, and enough rest is highly recommended [11].

Conclusion

In summary, pneumonia is a respiratory disease that infects the air sacs in the lungs and causes them to inflate [1]. Pneumonia has several infectious agents, and it can be transmitted mainly through water droplets or from surfaces [2]. Some of its symptoms are shortness of breath, cough, and fever [5]. The short-term and long-term effects of pneumonia may vary based on the patient’s immune system, age and general health. If not treated, the infection caused by pneumonia can enter the bloodstream, causing septicemia, affecting the body’s organs [2]. Luckily, a vaccine has been found to prevent the contraction of pneumonia; however, transmission and infection is still possible even with vaccination. The best ways to stop transmission are washing your hands, avoiding smoking, and maintaining good general health [11].

Editors

Jasmine Kokkat, Rhea Verma

Designer

Web design by Majd Al-Aarg

Additional Credits

Cover photo provided by camilo jimenez on Unsplash

References

  1. Oxford Learner’s Dictionary [Internet]. Oxford (UK): Oxford University Press; 2021. Pneumonia; 2021 [cited 2021 Jan 30]. Available: https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/pneumonia

  2. Seladi-Schulman J, & Murrell D [Internet]. San Francisco (CA): HealthLine; 2021. Why pneumonia can be deadly for some people; 2018 [cited 2021 Jan 30]. Available: https://www.healthline.com/health/pneumonia/can-you-die-from-pneumonia

  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [Internet]. Atlanta (GA): U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; 2021. Pneumonia; 2021 [cited 2021 Jan 30]. Available: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/pneumonia.htm

  4. Top 20 pneumonia facts — 2019 [Internet]. New York City (NY): American Thoracic Society; 2021. 2019 [cited 2021 Jan 30]. Available: https://www.thoracic.org/patients/patient-resources/resources/top-pneumonia-facts.pdf

  5. Pneumonia: Symptoms and causes [Internet]. Rochester (MN): Mayo Clinic; 2021. 20 [cited 2021 Jan 31]. Available: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pneumonia/symptoms-causes/syc-20354204

  6. Grijalva CG. Is pneumonia a risk factor or a risk marker for long-term mortality?. American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine [Internet]. [cited 2021 Jan 30]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1164/rccm.201506-1171ED

  7. Grimwood K, Chang AB. Long-term effects of pneumonia in young children. Pneumonia [Internet]. 2015 Oct 27 [cited 2021 Jan 30];6(1):101. Available: https://pneumonia.org.au/index.php/pneumonia/article/view/671

  8. Sampson T [Internet]. Brighton (UK): Medical News Today; 2021. What is the link between asthma and pneumonia?; 2019 [cited 2021 Mar 1]. Available: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/325312#complications

  9. Bronchiectasis [Internet]. West Hollywood (CA): Cedars-Sinai; 2021. Bronchiectasis; 2021[cited 2021 Mar 1]. Available: https://www.cedars-sinai.org/health-library/diseases-and-conditions/b/bronchiectasis.html

  10. Goldman R, Luo EK [Internet]. San Francisco (CA): Healthline; 2021. The effects of pneumonia on the body; 2018 [cited 2021 Jan 31]. Available: https://www.healthline.com/health/pneumonia/effects-on-body

  11. Can Pneumonia Be Prevented? [Internet]. Chicago (IL): American Lung Association; 2021. 2021 [cited 2021 Jan 31]. Available: https://www.lung.org/lung-health-diseases/lung-disease-lookup/pneumonia/preventing-pneumonia

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