January 24, 2022

What is pneumonia and how do we treat it?


Along with the ever-present possibilities of catching a cold, the flu or COVID-19 is the danger that these diseases may cause pneumonia to develop in our lungs.

Have you or a family member suffered through pneumonia? Jamal Akhtar, M.D., internal medicine specialist at The University of Kansas Health System St. Francis Campus, answers questions about pneumonia and the effective ways to treat the different versions of this disease.

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, caused mainly by bacteria, viruses or less commonly by fungi. This infection leads to the accumulation of fluid and pus in the lungs. Patients with pneumonia will experience fever, chills, cough, trouble breathing and chest discomfort. Anyone having these symptoms should see a doctor, as pneumonia can become very serious, especially if not treated quickly.

Who is most at risk for developing pneumonia?

Anyone can develop pneumonia, however, those with weakened immune systems, underlying lung and heart problems, diabetes, are over age 65 or are cigarette smokers are at risk of more serious complications from pneumonia.

How do you determine if someone has pneumonia?

Pneumonia is diagnosed with a chest X- ray. For hospital patients with pneumonia, a blood culture is also performed to see if the infection has spread from the lungs into the blood stream.

People who fail to improve or get worse during their hospitalization, despite treatment with antibiotics, may require further testing with a bronchoscopy. A bronchoscopy involves having a thin, flexible tube with a camera at the end passed through the nose or mouth into the lung. It allows us to visualize the inside of the trachea, bronchi and the lungs, collect fluid samples or take a biopsy (a small tissue sample).

What are the four stages of pneumonia?

Stage 1: Congestion – Within 24 hours of infection, one’s lungs start filling with fluid. Symptoms: Coughing, heaviness in chest, deep breathing issues, fatigue.

Stage 2: Red Hepatization – Occurs 48-72 hours after infection, lasts almost 4 days. Red blood cells and immune cells enter the fluid-filled lungs to combat the infection, giving the lungs a red appearance. Red and white blood cells, bacteria, and cellular debris clog airways. Symptoms: Worsening of symptoms. Increased cough, shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, perhaps fever, chills, sweating, blue lips/fingernails. Call 911 with severe symptoms.

Stage 3: Gray Hepatization – Starts between days 4 and 6, lasts almost 8 days. Lungs turn grey with breakdown of red blood cells. Symptoms: Symptoms will likely persist.

Stage 4: Resolution – The complete recovery stage lasts over 8-10 days. Fluids get reabsorbed while airways and air sacs return to normal lung function. Symptoms: Symptoms improve, although a cough may persist, which helps remove fluids and cellular debris from the lungs.

How do you treat pneumonia?

Pneumonia that is caused by bacteria is treated with antibiotics. Most people are treated at home with oral antibiotics. People who are seriously ill need to be hospitalized. Those who are hospitalized usually get intravenous (IV) antibiotics. Some people need extra oxygen (given through small nasal tubes or a face mask) to help them, if they have low oxygen. Those who are still having a hard time breathing and have low oxygen may need a breathing tube connected to a ventilator machine.

Pneumonia caused by influenza is treated with an antiviral medicine.

Most people begin to improve after 3-5 days of antibiotic treatment. Fatigue and a persistent but milder cough can last for a month or longer. Most people are able to resume their usual activities within a week. Those treated in the hospital may take three weeks or longer to resume their normal activities. It’s important to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. People who have been discharged from the hospital with a pneumonia diagnosis should also have a follow-up visit with their primary care provider, usually within one week.

Can pneumonia be fatal?

Most people recover completely from pneumonia, especially those who do not require hospitalization. However, in some cases, it can be fatal. People with weakened immune systems, underlying lung and heart problems, diabetes, are over age 65 or are cigarette smokers are at risk of more serious complications.

The risk of death is higher in people who are hospitalized, particularly those who are admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU). It's very important to see a health care provider if you have symptoms of pneumonia, so it can be treated as soon as possible. It will not go away on its own.

Dr. Jamal Akhtar is an internal medicine specialist and is accepting new primary care patients with immediate availability at our Brewster location. He has special interest in helping those with respiratory diseases and sleep disorders in addition to providing a full spectrum of primary care services.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Akhtar, call 785-379-4600 or book online at kutopeka.com/find-a-physician/jamal-akhtar-md.



Share this: