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Health Information For Parents
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs. The air sacs in the lungs (called alveoli) fill up with pus and other fluid. This makes it hard for oxygen to reach the bloodstream.
Someone with pneumonia may have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing.
Symptoms vary depending on a person’s age and what caused the pneumonia, but can include:
If the pneumonia is in the lower part of the lungs near the abdomen, a person might have a fever and belly pain or vomiting with no breathing problems.
Pneumonia is caused by a variety of germs (viruses, bacteria, fungi, and parasites). Most cases, though, are caused by viruses. These include adenoviruses, rhinovirus, influenza virus (flu), respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and parainfluenza virus (which also can cause croup).
Often, pneumonia begins after an upper respiratory tract infection (an infection of the nose and throat), with symptoms starting after 2 or 3 days of a cold or sore throat. It then moves to the lungs. Fluid, white blood cells, and debris start to gather in the air spaces of the lungs and block the smooth passage of air, making it harder for the lungs to work well.
Kids with pneumonia caused by bacteria usually become sick fairly quickly, starting with a sudden high fever and unusually fast breathing.
Kids with pneumonia caused by viruses probably will have symptoms that appear more gradually and are less severe, though wheezing can be more common.
Some symptoms give important clues about which germ is causing the pneumonia. For example:
The length of time between exposure to the germ and when someone starts feeling sick varies, depending on which germ caused the pneumonia (for instance, 4 to 6 days for RSV, but just 18 to 72 hours for the flu).
Doctors usually make a pneumonia diagnosis after an exam. They’ll check a child’s appearance, breathing pattern, and vital signs, and listen to the lungs for abnormal sounds. They might order a chest X-ray or blood tests, but neither are necessary to make the diagnosis.
In most cases, pneumonia is caused by a virus that does not require antibiotics. Pneumonia caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics taken by mouth at home. The type of antibiotic used depends on the type of bacteria thought to have caused the pneumonia.
Antiviral medicine is now available too, but is reserved for the flu when found early in the course of illness.
Children might need treatment in a hospital if the pneumonia causes a lasting high fever, breathing problems, or if they:
Hospital treatment can include intravenous (IV) antibiotics (given into a vein) and respiratory therapy (breathing treatments). More severe cases might be treated in the intensive care unit (ICU).
Anyone with pneumonia needs to get plenty of rest and drink lots of fluids while the body works to fight the infection.
If your child has bacterial pneumonia and the doctor prescribed antibiotics, give the medicine on schedule for as long as directed. This will help your child recover faster and help prevent the infection from spreading to others in the family. For wheezing, the doctor might recommend using a nebulizer or an inhaler.
Ask the doctor before you use a medicine to treat your child’s cough. Cough suppressants stop the lungs from clearing mucus, which isn’t helpful for pneumonia. Over-the-counter cough and cold medicines are not recommended for any kids under 6 years old.
Take your child’s temperature at least once each morning and each evening. Call the doctor if it goes above 102°F (38.9°C) in an older infant or child, or above 100.4°F (38°C) in a baby under 6 months old.
Check your child’s lips and fingernails to make sure they are rosy and pink. Call your doctor if they are bluish or gray, which is a sign that the lungs are not getting enough oxygen.
With treatment, most types of bacterial pneumonia are cured in 1–2 weeks. Walking pneumonia and viral pneumonia may take 4–6 weeks to go away completely.
In general, pneumonia is not contagious, but the upper respiratory viruses and bacteria that lead to it are. When these germs are in fluid from the mouth or nose of someone who’s infected, that person can spread the illness through coughs and sneezes.
Sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils, and touching the used tissues or handkerchiefs of an infected person also can spread pneumonia. So it’s best to keep kids away from anyone with symptoms (stuffy or runny nose, sore throat, cough, etc.) of a respiratory infection.
Some types of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines. Kids usually get routine immunizations against Haemophilus influenzae pneumococcus and whooping cough beginning at 2 months of age.
The flu vaccine is recommended for all healthy kids ages 6 months through 19 years, but especially for kids with chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disorders or asthma.
Because they’re at higher risk for serious complications, babies born early may get treatments that temporarily protect against RSV because it can lead to pneumonia in younger kids.
Doctors may give antibiotics to prevent pneumonia in kids who have been exposed to someone with certain types of pneumonia, such as whooping cough. Those with HIV infection might get antibiotics to prevent pneumonia caused by Pneumocystis jirovecii.
If someone in your home has a respiratory infection or throat infection, keep their drinking glasses and eating utensils separate from those of other family members, and wash your hands often, especially if you’re handling used tissues or dirty handkerchiefs.
Call your doctor right away if your child has any of the signs of pneumonia, but especially if he or she:
Many kids with this milder version of pneumonia feel well enough to go to school. But it’s important to keep kids home until after treatment kicks in and symptoms improve.
Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) is a major cause of respiratory illness in young children. Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of this contagious infection.
Coughs are a common symptom, butÂ most aren’t a sign of a serious condition. Learn about different coughs, how to help your child feel better, and when to call your doctor.
Croup often causes kids to have a loud cough that sounds like a seal barking. Most cases of croup are caused by viruses, are mild, and can be treated at home.
Hib disease can cause serious illnesses like meningitis and pneumonia. To protect kids from this bacterial infection, they should receive the Hib vaccine as infants.
Strep throat is a common cause of sore throat in kids and teens. It usually requires treatment with antibiotics, but improves in a few days.
Babies who are born prematurely or who experience respiratory problems shortly after birth are at risk for bronchopulmonary dysplasia (BPD), sometimes called chronic lung disease.
By the time we’re 70 years old, we will have taken at least 600 million breaths. All of this breathing couldn’t happen without the respiratory system.
Find out when and why your child needs to get this vaccine.
Pertussis is characterized by severe coughing spells that end in a whooping sound when the person breathes in. It can be prevented with the pertussis vaccine, part of the DTaP immunization.
Pneumonia is a common lung infection that can usually be treated without a hospital stay.
Each day you breathe about 20,000 times. Find out more about the lungs and breathing process.
Fevers happen when the body’s internal “thermostat” raises the body temperature above normal. This is often the body’s way of fighting infections.
Flu symptoms tend to come on quickly and are worse than the sneezing and stuffiness of a cold. The flu is very contagious. Find out what to do in this article for parents.
Antibiotics are powerful medicines that can help kids feel better — but only when they have certain illnesses. Find out if an antibiotic is right for your child.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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