Pneumonia | Better Health Channel
For hot weather and health alerts this summer, download the Better Health Channel app today. For hot weather and health alerts this summer, download the Better Health Channel app today.
Close survey
Pneumonia

Summary

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused by bacteria or viruses. Anyone can be affected, but young children and the elderly are most susceptible. Pneumonia is often triggered by a cold or bout of flu. Treatment may include rest, medications, including antibiotics, and hospitalisation in severe cases. Immunisation is available against pneumococcal pneumonia.

Download the PDF version of this fact sheet Email this fact sheet

Pneumonia is a type of lung infection, caused by a virus or bacteria. The lungs are filled with thousands of tubes, called bronchi, which end in smaller sacs called alveoli. Each one has a fine mesh of capillaries. This is where oxygen is added to the blood and carbon dioxide removed.

If a person has pneumonia, the alveoli in one or both lungs fill with pus and fluids (exudate), which interferes with the gas exchange. This is sometimes known as ‘consolidation and collapse of the lung’.

Anyone of any age can contract pneumonia, but it tends to be common in children aged four years and under, and in the elderly. Pneumonia can strike suddenly or gradually. With appropriate treatment, one can expect to get better in around one week to 10 days.

Symptoms of pneumonia


The symptoms of pneumonia depend on the age of the person, the cause and severity of the infection, and any existing problems with immunity. Some of the symptoms may include:
  • rapid breathing
  • breathing difficulties
  • fever
  • general malaise
  • loss of appetite
  • abdominal pain
  • headache
  • chest pain
  • cough
  • blue colouration of the skin around the mouth (cyanosis), caused by lack of oxygen.

Causes of pneumonia


Pneumonia can be triggered by a cold or bout of flu, which allows the germs to gain access to the alveoli. In about half of all cases, no cause is ever found. Some of the micro-organisms that can cause pneumonia include:
  • Bacteria – symptoms include rust or green-coloured phlegm. Anyone of any age can be affected, but susceptible groups include babies, the elderly, alcoholics, and people recovering from surgery or coping with other illnesses (such as lung disease).
  • Viruses – symptoms are similar to a severe bout of flu. It is thought that around 50 per cent of pneumonia cases are caused by viral infections.
  • Mycoplasma (a special kind of bacteria) – symptoms can include white phlegm, nausea and vomiting. Pneumonia caused by mycoplasma organisms is generally mild, but recovery takes longer.

Diagnosis for pneumonia


If your child seems to be recovering well from a cold or flu, but then relapses, they may have a chest infection. See your doctor immediately, since pneumonia can be life threatening to babies and young children.

Pneumonia is diagnosed using a variety of tests, including:
  • general examination
  • chest x-rays.

Treatment for pneumonia


In many cases, the person’s own immune system can deal with the infection, but antibiotics may sometimes assist recovery.

Treatment depends on the age of the individual and the type of infection, but can include:
  • hospital admission – for babies, young children and the elderly. Mild or moderate cases of pneumonia in people who are otherwise well can often be treated at home.
  • plenty of fluids – taken orally or intravenously
  • Antibiotics – to kill the infection, if bacteria are the cause
  • medications – to relieve pain and reduce fever
  • rest – sitting up is better than lying down.

Immunisation for pneumonia


One of the most common types of bacterial pneumonia is pneumococcal pneumonia, caused by infection with Streptococcus pneumoniae. There are vaccines against this strain that reduce the risk of infection.

It is recommended that certain people be immunised, including:
  • young children
  • older people over the age of 65 years
  • people with chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, asthma or respiratory disorders
  • people with reduced immunity
  • people who have had an organ transplant
  • people who have damaged spleens or have had their spleens surgically removed
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the age of 50 years
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at two years of age and older who live in remote communities.

Where to get help

  • Your doctor
  • NURSE-ON-CALL Tel. 1300 606 024 – for expert health information and advice (24 hours, 7 days)
  • Lung Foundation Australia Tel. 1800 654 301

Things to remember

  • Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused by bacteria or viruses.
  • Anyone of any age can be affected, but children under the age of four years are very susceptible.
  • Certain people can be immunised against one of the most common types of bacterial pneumonia.

You might also be interested in:

Want to know more?

Go to More information for support groups, related links and references.


This page has been produced in consultation with and approved by:

Lung Foundation Australia

(Logo links to further information)


Lung Foundation Australia

Last reviewed: June 2014

Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your doctor or other registered health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residents and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that, over time, currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a registered health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.


If you would like to link to this fact sheet on your website, simply copy the code below and add it to your page:

<a href="http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Pneumonia_explained?open">Pneumonia - Better Health Channel</a><br/>
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused by bacteria or viruses. Anyone can be affected, but young children and the elderly are most susceptible. Pneumonia is often triggered by a cold or bout of flu. Treatment may include rest, medications, including antibiotics, and hospitalisation in severe cases. Immunisation is available against pneumococcal pneumonia.



Content on this website is provided for education and information purposes only. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your qualified health professional. Content has been prepared for Victorian residence and wider Australian audiences, and was accurate at the time of publication. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users are urged to always seek advice from a qualified health care professional for diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

For the latest updates and more information, visit www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au

Copyight © 1999/2014  State of Victoria. Reproduced from the Better Health Channel (www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au) at no cost with permission of the Victorian Minister for Health. Unauthorised reproduction and other uses comprised in the copyright are prohibited without permission.

footer image for printing