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Pneumonia occurs when an infection — usually from bacteria or viruses — inflames the air sacs in the lungs. The sacs can then fill up with fluid or pus, causing such symptoms as a cough with phlegm, difficulty breathing (dyspnea), a fever (sometimes a high fever) and chills.

The different types of pneumonia are named for how you get them:

  • Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) – the most common type, affecting around 4 million people each year. People usually get CAP by breathing in germs that live in the mouth, nose or throat.
  • Hospital-acquired pneumonia – acquired during a hospital stay. People who are on breathing machines (ventilators) have a higher risk of getting this type of pneumonia than those who are not.
  • Health care-associated pneumonia – acquired in non-hospital health care settings, including nursing homes, outpatient clinics and dialysis centers
  • Aspiration pneumonia – occurs if you accidentally inhale food, liquid (including saliva) or vomit into your lungs.
  • Atypical pneumonia – caused by certain types of bacteria and is passed from person to person

The severity of the pneumonia and its symptoms depends on which type of germ causes the infection, as well as your age and overall health. Some groups have a higher risk of getting pneumonia and of having more serious disease:

  • Babies and young children whose immune systems are not yet fully developed
  • People over the age of 65
  • Those with lung disease or other chronic health condition, including heart failure, diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis or COPD
  • Anyone whose immune system is weak or suppressed. This includes people with HIV/AIDS and those who have had organ transplants, stem cell or bone marrow transplants, or chemotherapy.
  • People who have difficulty coughing or swallowing due to a stroke or other health issue
  • Smokers
  • Heavy drinkers

Pneumonia: what you should know

  • Vaccines can help protect against one type of pneumonia, pneumococcal pneumonia. And when people who are vaccinated do get pneumonia, they tend to have milder infections that don’t last as long and experience fewer serious complications than people who aren’t vaccinated.
  • One important sign of pneumonia in an older adult: a sudden change in mental awareness. And unlike younger people who get high fevers, seniors with pneumonia may have a lower than normal temperature.

How can I get help for pneumonia?

Go to the emergency room or see a doctor right away if you or a loved one experiences any of these symptoms or if the symptoms get worse:

  • A high fever
  • Shaking chills
  • A cough with phlegm (a slimy substance) that doesn’t go away
  • Shortness of breath (dyspnea) with normal daily activities
  • Chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Feeling suddenly worse after a cold or the flu

These are other symptoms of pneumonia, including those often found in babies and children:

  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Fussiness
  • Breathing fast or hard
  • Headache

Because many pneumonia symptoms are symptoms of other illnesses, it’s important to see a doctor and get the right diagnosis.

Care for pneumonia at Rush

People with community-acquired pneumonia typically don’t need to stay in the hospital. They can recover at home with medications, rest and other self-care.

If you have severe symptoms or a chronic health problem, you may need to stay and be treated in the hospital until you’re feeling better. It may take several weeks to fully recover, and pneumonia-related fatigue can last up to a month or more, so you may need to ease back into your normal routine.

The specific treatment depends on what caused the pneumonia, and your specific symptoms:

  • Bacterial pneumonia is treated with antibiotics. Bacterial infections usually respond quickly to antibiotics. Most people with this type of pneumonia start to feel better and have fewer symptoms within one to three days after starting medication.
  • Viral pneumonia is often treated with an antiviral medication. People with this type of pneumonia take slightly longer to recover than people with bacterial pneumonia, usually one to three weeks.
  • If you have low blood oxygen levels, you may need oxygen therapy.

Why choose Rush for pneumonia care

  • In U.S. News & World Report's 2016-2017 America's Best Hospitals issue, Rush ranked among the top 50 hospitals in nine of 16 categories. Just 137 out of almost 5,600 hospitals in the United States, less than 3 percent, scored high enough this year to rank in even a single specialty.
  • Rush received an “A” for patient safety in a nationwide evaluation of hospitals by The Leapfrog Group, a national not-for-profit organization that promotes health care safety and quality improvement. This score represents Rush’s overall performance in keeping patients safe from preventable medical errors, injuries and infections.

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