Pneumonia is an infection or inflammation in the lung tissue. Despite all the
advances in medicine, pneumonia is still a common disease in Ireland, accounting
for approximately 5% of deaths in this country. The most 'at risk' groups of
people from the disease are older people and young children.
It can be caused by a variety of different microorganisms such as bacteria,
viruses, fungi, parasites or by corrosive chemicals breathed into the stomach
or the inhalation of toxic gases.
Pneumonia is usually contracted by breathing in the microorganisms which cause
the infection. In more rare cases, pneumonia can be caused by breathing in the
contents of your stomach after vomiting. This causes chemical pneumonia and
can result in the microorganisms passing into the lungs.
Sometimes pneumonia can occur as a result of infection in other parts of the
body. Microorganisms from the infected site can be carried via the bloodstream
and into the lungs where they remain and trigger off pneumonia. However, this
method of contracting the infection remains relatively rare.
If pneumonia is suspected, your GP will examine your chest using a stethoscope
to listen for unusual sounds such as a harsh creaking noise when breathing.
It may be necessary to have lung x-rays taken to ascertain the seriousness of
the condition. If severe pneumonia is present, admission to hospital is almost
How is pneumonia treated?
Depending on the strain of pneumonia identified, and the underlying cause for
it, there are a number of treatments available. If the pneumonia is believed
to be due to a bacterial infection, antibiotics will be given. It is important
to take the antibiotics as prescribed, and always finish the course. Other treatments
may be offered, depending on symptoms. If there is wheeze or shortness of breath,
inhalers or tablets may be prescribed to treat the inflammation that is causing
these symptoms. Paracetamol, taken regularly in the recommended doses, is helpful
in treating the fever and the muscle pains and aches.
Can pneumonia be prevented?
The best approach to preventing lung diseases such as pneumonia is not to smoke
cigarettes. If you dont smoke, dont start. If you already smoke,
you should seriously think about stopping. Your GP or pharmacist can advise
you about smoking cessation programmes.
There are no effective means of preventing pneumonia caused by many bacteria
or viruses. However, there is a vaccination available for one common bacterial
cause, the pneumococcal bacteria. All those who are in the 'at risk' category
are advised to discuss this vaccination with their GP. This assists in the prevention
of pneumonia and is well worth investigating. It can be given in conjunction
with the flu vaccination.
It must be remembered that pneumonia is a serious and potentially life-threatening
disease, and every step should be taken to prevent it if possible.
If pneumonia is suspected, seek medical advice as quickly as possible.