Pneumonia is an infection that can be caused by many types of bacteria, viruses, and even fungi. The infection causes inflammation of the air sacs in one or both lungs. This can result in symptoms that range widely in severity. While some cases are as mild as a common cold or flu, severe cases can cause life-threatening complications.
What are the symptoms of pneumonia?
The symptoms of pneumonia can range from mild to life-threatening. If the symptoms of your pneumonia are mild, your doctor may refer to it as walking pneumonia. If your symptoms are severe, hospitalization may be required.
In most people, the symptoms of pneumonia can include:
- Coughing, often with phlegm
- Shortness of breath, even at low activity levels or when resting
- Nausea or vomiting
- Chest pain that is worst when breathing or coughing
- Appetite loss
Infants, children, and older adults may exhibit different symptoms. In infants, symptoms are often not noticeable, although the baby may be lethargic, drink or eat poorly, or vomit. In children under 5 years of age, breathing may be fast or accompanied by a wheezing sound. Pneumonia symptoms in older people are often milder, but may also include confusion or a lowered body temperature.
When should I see a doctor for pneumonia symptoms?
It’s important to visit a physician if you are experiencing chest pain, difficulty breathing, a fever of 102°F or higher, or a lasting cough – particularly if you’re coughing up phlegm or mucus.
People who are at a higher risk of complications should take special care to visit a doctor in a timely manner. This includes infants and children under 2 years old, adults aged 65 and older, and people with weakened immune systems, heart failure, or chronic lung problems.
Especially in at-risk individuals, early diagnosis and treatment can reduce recovery time and decrease the risk of life-threatening complications.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
To diagnose your problem, your doctor will ask about your medical history and the symptoms you are experiencing. Your doctor will then do a physical exam.
To diagnose pneumonia and rule out other possible reasons for your symptoms, the physician may order a complete blood count (CBC) test and a chest X-ray. The sputum from your lungs may also be tested to determine whether bacteria or other microorganisms are causing the infection.
If you are an older adult, have other health problems, or your symptoms are severe, additional tests may be recommended based on your individual needs.
How is pneumonia treated?
The most common pneumonia treatment is antibiotics. If your sputum test indicates viral pneumonia, however, your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication. Antibiotics may be prescribed in addition to antivirals to prevent complications in some cases.
If your pneumonia is bacterial, you should start feeling better after 2 to 3 days of taking antibiotics. Even if you feel better, it is important to take the full course of antibiotics as prescribed to ensure effectiveness. If you do not feel better after 2 to 3 days of antibiotics, or you begin to feel worse, talk to your medical provider.
In walking pneumonia, symptoms are mild enough that you do not require bed rest or hospitalization. You can continue your activities as normal, being mindful that some forms of pneumonia are contagious.
If your symptoms are severe or you are at risk of serious complications, you may need to go to the hospital for closer monitoring and care.
While you recover from pneumonia, self-care at home can ease your symptoms. Drink plenty of fluids, avoid smoking, and get extra rest and sleep. You may wish to take cough medicine, especially if your coughing interferes with your sleep.
Where can I see a doctor for pneumonia?
If you are feeling sick and think you might have pneumonia or another illness, visit a healthcare provider to ensure you receive the right diagnosis and treatment. If your symptoms are severe or you’re at a higher risk of complications, it is especially important to seek care quickly.
For fast access to quality medical care, Physicians Immediate Care is here to support you. Visit one of our 40+ Midwest locations to see one of our experienced medical providers. We’re open 7 days a week, with extended hours to accommodate your schedule. Find a clinic near you today.