Q: “What is pneumonia, and is it contagious?”
A: Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, causing the tiny air sacs (alveoli) to become inflamed and filled with fluid. Inflammation of the alveoli causes a loss of elasticity in the lungs, forcing the lungs to work harder to keep up with the body’s need for oxygenated blood.
Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, chemicals, infectious agents or aspirated food. Severity, symptoms and treatment will vary based on the cause of an individual’s pneumonia. Common symptoms of pneumonia can include:
• Cough, sometimes bringing up mucus from the lungs
• Fast and/or shallow breathing
• Chest pain when coughing or inhaling
• Rapid heartbeat
• Nausea and/or vomiting
• Confusion (more common in older adults)
Your doctor can determine whether or not you have pneumonia. Sometimes a chest X-ray, blood test or mucus sample is also necessary to confirm pneumonia.
The most common type of pneumonia is caused by bacteria. This variety usually comes on fast with symptoms that are more severe than other types of pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia generally responds well to antibiotics, whereas viral pneumonia may only require at-home care. Your doctor can determine the cause of pneumonia and offer a treatment plan.
Pneumonia is contagious. Droplets from an infected individual’s sneeze or cough contain the germs that cause pneumonia. Not everyone that comes into contact with pneumonia-causing germs will develop pneumonia but, in some cases, the body’s natural defenses will allow the germs to settle in and multiply in the lungs. Your body’s ability to fight infection will determine whether or not you develop pneumonia after being exposed.
Pneumonia is a serious illness. If you or a loved one have symptoms of pneumonia contact your physician.
Jamie Ulbrich-McLain, M.D.
, is with Avon Family Health
, part of the Hendricks Regional Health Medical Group
. Her office is located at the Hendricks Regional Health YMCA, 301 Satori Parkway, Avon. For appointments call (317) 271-6363.