Pneumonia is swelling (inflammation) of the tissue in one or both lungs. It’s usually caused by an infection. At the end of the breathing tubes in the lungs are clusters of tiny air sacs. If you have pneumonia, these tiny sacs become inflamed and swell up with fluid. You might hear it called bronchopneumonia, lobar pneumonia or double pneumonia, but the causes and treatment are all the same.
Common symptoms include:
- a cough – which may produce thick mucus (phlegm) that is yellow, green, brownish or blood-stained
- difficulty breathing
Time to see the doctor
If your elderly parent feels very unwell and experiences any of the above symptoms, get them to the GP.
A chest X-ray or further tests might be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
If they are experiencing severe symptoms – such as rapid breathing, chest pain or confusion – seek urgent medical attention.
What causes pneumonia?
The most common cause is a pneumococcal infection, caused by bacteria called Streptococcus pneumoniae. However, there are many different types of bacteria and viruses that can lead to pneumonia.
Good hygiene and a healthy lifestyle can help prevent pneumonia. Smoking increases the chance of infection, as it damages the lungs.
What is the treatment?
Mild cases can usually be treated at home with antibiotics, rest and plenty of fluids. People who are otherwise healthy will normally recover well. For people with other health conditions, especially elderly people, pneumonia can be severe and need to be treated in hospital.
This is because of potential complications, some of which can be fatal, depending on the health and age of the patient. These include:
- respiratory failure (when the lungs cannot take in enough oxygen) due to the air sacs filling with fluid
- lung abscesses
- blood poisoning (septicaemia)
Who is affected?
In the UK, pneumonia affects around 1 in 1000 adults each year. It is more common during autumn and winter.
People of any age can be affected, although it is more common and can be more serious in groups such as:
- babies, young children and elderly people
- people who smoke
- people with other health conditions, such as a lung condition or a weakened immune system
People in these groups are more likely to need hospital treatment.
More information about pneumonia is available from the NHS Choices website.
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