Last updated: November 29, 2017

Pneumonia Symptoms in adults

What is pneumonia and what causes it?

To understand pneumonia symptoms, you need to understand what pneumonia is. Pneumonia is simply an infection of the lungs.

Pneumonia is an infection that affects the deep parts of the lungs. If the infection is just limited to the upper parts of our air-pipes, it presents as cold or flu. If the infection is in the smaller branches of the air-pipes, it becomes bronchitis. When the infection gets all the way down to the air sacs deep inside our lungs, it becomes pneumonia.

Pneumonia causes

These are the three common causes of pneumonia

  1. Bacteria
  2. Virus
  3. Fungi

The three types of pneumonia based on the causes of pneumonia are

  1. Bacterial pneumonia
  2. Viral pneumonia
  3. Fungal pneumonia

Pneumonia symptoms in adults from bacterial pneumonia

Among the causes of pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia is the most common one. When people generally talk about signs of pneumonia in adults, they are talking about bacterial pneumonia.

Here are some common pneumonia symptoms in adults from bacterial pneumonia:

  1. Fevers
  2. Chills
  3. Shaking rigors
  4. Sweating
  5. Cough
  6. Sputum production
  7. Chest pain with breathing
  8. Shortness of breath
  9. Decreased appetite
  10. Fast breathing
  11. Fast heart rate
  12. Low blood pressure
  13. Feeling dizzy, lightheaded
  14. Feel like fainting
  15. Getting confused
  16. Generalized weakness
  17. Trouble walking

It is important to note that actual pneumonia symptoms in any particular adult patient depends on the age, health and other individual factors. A healthy young adult may only have fevers and chills. However, a person with existing heart and lung problems may have significant trouble breathing from the same type of pneumonia. Confusion may be the only pneumonia symptom in elderly. The first sign of pneumonia in these patients may be decreased appetite. You can read this article on pneumonia in elderly if you are concerned about your grandma catching pneumonia.

Pneumococcal pneumonia

Pneumonia symptoms in adults

Image courtesy of: National Kidney & Urologic Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NKUDIC)

Pneumococcus is the name of the most common bacteria that causes pneumonia. More than 400, 000 people get admitted to the hospital in the United States every year with pneumococcal pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumococcal pneumonia in adults are similar to that of other bacterial pneumonia. Pneumococcal pneumonia can cause serious life threatening complications in people with weakened immune system and people with multiple heart and lung issues. People with COPD are also susceptible to severe disease from pneumococcal pneumonia.

How do you catch pneumonia? How do you get pneumonia? Is pneumonia contagious?

The causative agents of pneumonia (bacteria, virus and fungi) are transmissible from person to person. In that sense, they are technically considered contagious. However, when you catch the bacteria from a person with pneumonia, you won’t necessarily get pneumonia. That is why regular pneumonia is not contagious. You may catch a pneumonia causing agent from someone with pneumonia but that is not enough to get pneumonia. In many cases, your body is able to fight off the pneumonia causing bacteria or virus (fungal pneumonia are somewhat different) before it gets all way inside your lungs to cause pneumonia.

So, how do you catch pneumonia? You don’t actually catch pneumonia. You catch the pneumonia causing agent by inhaling them. So, how do you get pneumonia? You get pneumonia when your body is not able to fight off the pneumonia causing bacteria (or virus) that you caught.

How to diagnose pneumonia in adults?

Pneumonia diagnosis is relatively straightforward. However, there are many questions that need to be answered at the time of diagnosis.

Pneumonia vs bronchitis: Many of the signs of bronchitis overlap with those of pneumonia. It is important to distinguish the diagnosis of pneumonia from that of bronchitis. Generally speaking, pneumonia symptoms are more severe than that of bronchitis. It is uncommon to have high fevers, confusion, chest pain, shortness of breath and low blood pressure with bronchitis but they may be present with pneumonia.

Pneumonia diagnosis confirmation: Diagnosis of pneumonia is confirmed after doing a chest x-ray or a CT scan of the lungs. With pneumonia, your doctor can see signs of infection and inflammation in the airspace of your lungs on the CT scan or chest x ray. That finding is absent in bronchitis. In fact, many doctors do not even order a chest x-ray if they think you have bronchitis and not pneumonia. When in doubt, a chest x-ray or a CT scan of the chest can help distinguish between pneumonia and bronchitis.

Bronchitis and pneumonia at the same time: It is possible to have bronchitis and pneumonia at the same time. It is also possible that someone initially diagnosed as bronchitis may eventually turn into pneumonia. How to tell if bronchitis is turning into pneumonia? Well, bronchitis and pneumonia mostly differ in the severity of symptoms and depth of infection. If you were diagnosed with bronchitis but your symptoms are worsening, you need to think about bronchitis turning into pneumonia. If you are starting to have chest pain, high fevers, and shortness of breath, you need to think about pneumonia.

Blood tests for pneumonia diagnosis: Blood tests are not required for pneumonia diagnosis but blood tests help in finding out how bad the pneumonia is. The most common blood test done in people diagnosed with pneumonia is called complete blood count or CBC. CBC results for pneumonia help to find out if the pneumonia has caused widespread immune activation called sepsis. A very high WBC count in CBC is a predictor of pneumonia with sepsis.

Can you die from pneumonia?

Most people know that bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics. Therefore it may be surprising to learn that many people die from pneumonia every-year. In fact, the case fatality rate of patients admitted to the hospital with bacterial pneumonia is 5% to 7%. It means that you have about 5% to 7% chance of dying form a pneumonia if your pneumonia is severe enough to require hospital admission.

Why do people still die from bacterial pneumonia when it is a treatable disease?

If you are young and otherwise healthy, you will most likely recover from the pneumonia with antibiotics. Lung recovery after pneumonia is complete in most healthy adults.
However, many hospitalized patients have existing heart and lung problems, existing cancers and many have deranged immune system from multiple medical problems. In those patients, recovery from pneumonia is slower. With a weak immune system, antibiotics alone will take longer to get rid of pneumonia. In the meantime, these bacteria can spread into the bloodstream or cause dysfunction of other organ systems. These complications can result in prolonged hospital stay and sometimes death. At other times, people with chronic health problems get severe life treating pneumonia after a flu. That is why influenza prevention is recommended for such patients.

How long does pneumonia last? How long does pneumonia cough last?

Pneumonia may last from just a few days to several weeks depending up the severity of the disease. If you are young and healthy, you may be able to get rid of the pneumonia very quickly. If you have existing multiple medical problems, it may take several weeks of treatment to recover completely from the pneumonia. In the worst case scenario, you may not completely recover from the pneumonia even after several weeks of hospitalization , and die from its complications.

It is important to note that “How long does pneumonia last?” and “How long does pneumonia cough last?” are two separate questions. Your pneumonia cough may linger on for some time even after you get rid of the pneumonia causing organism. When you take antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia, you start to get rid of those bacteria. If you have healthy immune system and if you get the appropriate antibiotics, you will get rid of those pneumonia causing bacteria with a week. However, you may still have dead bacteria, mucus, inflammatory chemicals and dead cells inside your lungs. These residual material may cause additional cough symptoms for 1 or 2 weeks. In fact, cough is a very effective way to get rid of these waste material from your lungs. In some cases, pneumonia cough may last unto 3 or 4 weeks. However, you need to call your doctor if you are still coughing more than a month after your diagnosis of pneumonia.

How to get rid of pneumonia caused by common bacteria? How to treat pneumonia?

Treatment for pneumonia in adults is relatively straightforward if you are in good general health. If you are otherwise healthy, you may be able to get rid of pneumonia by simply taking the prescribed antibiotic pills.

This may work if :

  1. You don’t have shortness of breath
  2. You do not require oxygen.
  3. Your blood pressure is not low.
  4. You are able to eat and drink normally.
  5. You are able to keep yourself hydrated at home.

If you are too sick to do all of the above, you will need hospitalization and IV antibiotics to get rid of pneumonia. Before you decide to continue to stay home and get rid of pneumonia at home, you need to look for signs that pneumonia is improving.

How to tell if pneumonia is getting better? You will feel like you have more energy as your pneumonia improves. Your fevers go down. Your appetite improves. You can breathe better and you can get back to your routine.

If you feel like you are more tired and lethargic, it is possible that your pneumonia is not improving at home and you may need hospitalization. If you keep having high fevers and chills despite taking antibiotics at home, you need to call your doctor.

How to get rid of pneumonia caused by antibiotic resistant bacteria?

If you caught your pneumonia while being treated for something else in a hospital, you have a higher chance of catching a drug resistant bacteria. In fact, bacterial pneumonia is divided into 2 different types based on where you caught the bacteria.

Here are the types of pneumonia classified this way:

  1. Community acquired pneumonia
  2. Hospital acquired pneumonia (also called healthcare associated pneumonia)

To get rid of pneumonia caught in the hospital, you need multiple strong intravenous antibiotics for a prolonged period of time.