Pneumonia is a lung infection caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi that affects millions of people in the United States each year. Aspiration pneumonia is not necessarily an infection but occurs when someone inhales food, liquids, oral secretions or vomit into the lungs. Bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia live in the mouth and sinuses or can be inhaled if someone else in the immediate vicinity is sick. Unlike a cold, in which the infection is primarily in the nose and upper airways, pneumonia primarily affects the lungs.
Four primary symptoms indicate pneumonia and can distinguish it from a cold, which may have some similar symptoms. First, there is a cough, which may include the production of greenish or yellowish mucus or even blood. Second is fever, which is often accompanied by shaking chills. Finally, the patient is short of breath, although it may only occur with exertion, like climbing stairs. Pneumonia may also cause headaches, sweating, confusion and fatigue, as well as chest pain.
Treatment depends on the organism causing the pneumonia. Bacterial infections are treated with antibiotics and viral infections may be treated with antiviral medications. A fungal infection must be treated with anti-fungal medication (antibiotics don't work against fungus). Breathing treatments may be necessary to help clear chest secretions, and some patients need oxygen therapy or intravenous fluids.
The intensity of symptoms is usually what determines whether to go to urgent care. A high fever, shaking chills, severe cough (especially with bloody mucus) or shortness of breath are a good indication that medical care is necessary. People who can't eat or drink, who are older than 65 or who have problems like heart disease or diabetes should definitely be seen, as they are more likely to need hospitalization. If a patient is already on antibiotics and not getting better, that's another reason to be seen in urgent care.
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