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Pneumonia in Children

By Dr. Michael Boettcher

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a reaction in the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or other irritants, which results in the air sacs of the lungs filling with pus or other body fluids.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

Pneumonia symptoms are non-specific but generally are:

1       Fever

2       Chest or upper abdominal pain

3       Chills

4       Fast or hard breathing

5       Headache

6       Decrease in appetite

7       Vomiting

8       Generally not feeling well

As these symptoms may represent other illnesses, talk to your doctor for advice or an evaluation if your child is experiencing them.

How do you get pneumonia?

Most cases of pneumonia are caused by viral or bacterial illnesses and are called “community-acquired” pneumonias.  This means that the infection is generally what is circulating in the community, such as school or work.  Respiratory viruses such as influenza, RSV, or adenovirus are the primary viral cause of pneumonias.  They also can be the initial infection that can lead to bacterial pneumonia.  One can get pneumonia from another person, especially viral pneumonias and Whooping Cough.  Bacterial pneumonia is also contagious from exposure to others, but can also result from bacteria that have been present in the respiratory tract. These bacteria are then able to develop into an infection during a time of significant illness, stress, or poor nutrition. 

A person is considered to be most contagious during times of fever and severe coughing, however in young children, viral infections can continue to be contagious even when the symptoms resolve.  The importance of good respiratory hygiene and hand washing cannot be stressed enough during times of good health and illness.

How does one get treatment for pneumonia?

The treatment of pneumonia is dependent on the diagnosis by your physician.  This decision is based on the patient’s history, symptoms, and how the person looks and on other possible tests such as a chest X-ray or blood tests.  Also, the time of year, your child’s age, and what other illnesses are in the community serve as guides for your provider to make the best decision regarding the treatment of your child.  Antibiotics, antivirals, inhaled medicines and watchful waiting are generally the treatment choices.  Occasionally, the infection may not respond to the initial treatment and other treatments are needed.  This can serve as a frustrating event, and we understand your feelings.  Unfortunately, there is not a medication that provides a 100 percent guarantee of treatment success.  Sometimes, when a patient does not respond to the initial treatments, recurrent evaluations in the office are necessary to treat the infection.  Sometimes despite treatment, the patient worsens, or appears significantly ill, and hospitalization is needed to treat the patient.

How does one prevent pneumonia?

The primary means of preventing pneumonia includes good respiratory hygiene, hand washing, nutrition, eliminating environmental tobacco smoke exposure, and immunizations.  Currently only the influenza vaccine, Hib vaccine, the two pneumococcal vaccines, and the Whooping Cough vaccines are available to prevent community acquired pneumonia.  We strongly recommend protecting your child, family, and the community by immunizing your child and the rest of the children and adults in the family according to the current recommended schedule.  Emphasize healthy eating in your family, especially regarding fruits and vegetables and hydration.

Topics and Subtopics: Children's Health & Infant Care

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