Angie, your little one, wakes up in the night fussing and coughing. You check her temperature. It’s a little high. You notice she’s having some difficulty breathing and seems chilled. A few of her preschool playmates have been home sick this week. Didn’t Jackie’s mom say he had pneumonia? Better get Angie checked out.
Pneumonia is the leading infectious cause of death in children younger than five years old, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And UNICEF data estimates that 920,000 children died of pneumonia in 2015.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild. Or it can become serious, especially among young children, seniors, and those with weakened immune systems.
It’s not always caused by the same bug. The infection can be brought on by:
Bacteria such as Streptococcus
Mycoplasmas, which are similar to bacteria and often responsible for walking pneumonia
Viruses like the same ones that cause colds and influenza (the flu)
Fungi, a cause more common in those with impaired immune systems
Chemicals, poisons, or toxins that irritate the lungs
What Are the Symptoms?
Pneumonia can come on suddenly or slowly with symptoms like:
Cough, producing mucus from the lungs. Mucus may be rusty or green or tinged with blood
Fever and/or sweating
Shaking ‘teeth-chattering’ chills
Fast or shallow breathing and shortness of breath
Chest pain that is worse when coughing or inhaling
Feeling very tired or weak
Headache, muscle aches, or sore throat
Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
Confusion (most common in seniors)
Children may have any of the above symptoms. You may also notice a fast breathing rate of more than 60 breaths per minute. Infants show little or no energy (lethargy), feeding poorly, grunting, or having a fever.
How Do You Get Pneumonia?
Coming down with this illness may be easier than you think. You can get it in a community setting such as school, the workplace, hospital, or nursing home. Here are several ways you (or your child) may become infected:
By breathing air into your lungs that has infected particles in it
By inhaling (into your lungs) the bacteria that can often be in your nose or throat, especially during sleep
During or after a viral infection of your upper respiratory system (a cold or flu)
As a complication of a viral illness, such as measles or chickenpox
By having a condition that makes swallowing difficult could cause food or gastric juices to move into your lungs
When to See a Doctor
It’s worth a trip to the doctor anytime you have concerns about your child’s health or are unsure about the illness or its severity. Be sure to check with your doctor if your child has these symptoms of pneumonia:
Fever of 102F degrees or higher
Shortness of breath moving about in routine activities
The doctor may diagnose your child based on symptoms and examination or may order a chest X-ray or ultrasound. Your child may be prescribed antibiotics or other medicines to help treat the illness and its symptoms.
Prevention and Precautions
Getting the annual flu shot (recommended for people 6 months and older) helps reduce the chance of getting pneumonia as a complication of the flu.
Remember, getting vaccines cannot guarantee you won’t get sick, but can reduce the chances and severity of the illness. Talk with your doctor about vaccine recommendations.
Your entire household should avoid exposure to people who are sick. Teach your child to wash his/her hands after playing with other children, coming home from school or daycare, and before eating. Pneumonia-casing bugs can also be spread to others by touching infected surfaces. Using a sanitizing cleanser in common areas and on toys can help.