Inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia)

Inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia) is most often caused by bacteria.

Overview

Inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia) is most often caused by bacteria. It is characterised by high fever and coughing, and may be accompanied by shortness of breath. Pneumonia should be treated by a doctor.

Symptoms

Lung inflammation is classified as typical and atypical pneumonia (see “Causes and treatment”):

Typical pneumonia

  • Sudden onset with high fever and chills
  • Cough that produces mucus or phlegm (usually brown at first, later yellowish green)
  • Pain when breathing, sometimes breathlessness
  • Bluish discolouration (cyanosis) of lips and nails (sign of insufficient oxygen uptake by the lungs)

Atypical pneumonia

  • Slow onset with gradually rising fever
  • Coughing, if any, is agonising but doesn't produce any mucus or phlegm
  • There is seldom pain when breathing
  • Headache and painful joints

Pneumonia usually heals within 10 to 14 days. Dry coughing can last for a few weeks or months, however.

Complications of severe pneumonia

Hospital-acquired (nosocomial) pneumonia is often caused by special pathogens (resistant bacterial strains, fungi) and usually triggers more serious diseases.

Causes and treatment

Causes

Pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria, and more seldom also by viruses and fungi. It occurs at all ages, but older people, persons with a weakened immune system, babies and small children are especially at risk.

Typical pneumonia
  • Pneumococci
  • Haemophilus influenza
Atypical pneumonia
  • Mycoplasma
  • Chlamydia
  • Legionella
  • Viruses
  • Fungi
Other causes
  • Choking on fluids (blood, gastric juices, vomit, contaminated water, etc.)
  • Extreme confinement to bed (not breathing deeply enough)
  • Artificial respiration

Further treatment by your doctor / in hospital

Possible tests
  • Listening to the lungs (stethoscope)
  • Blood tests (inflammatory markers)
  • Sputum analysis (search for germs)
  • X-ray
  • CT scan (computed tomography)
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
Possible therapies
  • Antibiotics (for bacteria)
  • Observation in hospital, if necessary

What can I do myself?

  • Rest your body
  • Do light exercises and breathing exercises, if possible
  • Drink enough (to loosen mucus)
  • If your cough produces mucus or phlegm, don't use cough suppressants (delays the healing process)

The following household remedies may help for coughing:

  • Inhalation (e.g. with thyme tea)
  • Sipping on onion juice or warm elderflower cordial
  • Potato poultices relieve coughing and loosen phlegm
  • Pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for older people, persons with weakened immune systems and the chronically ill

When to see a doctor?

Synonyms

lung inflammation, pneumonia, fever, pleuritis, embolism, sepsis, coughing, potato poultices, inhalation

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CSS offers no guarantee for the accuracy and completeness of the information. The information published is no substitute for professional advice from a doctor or pharmacist.

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