Who Should Get Testing
Testing is most often performed if you have symptoms that could be caused by pneumonia. This testing can help diagnose or rule out pneumonia as a cause of those symptoms.
The decision to order a pneumonia test is determined by a doctor based on your specific situation. You should talk to a doctor or nurse if:
- You have a cough that is persistent or worsening
- You have difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- You experience chest pain when breathing
- You have recovered from a cold or flu and then quickly found that your symptoms worsened
It is especially important to see a doctor about these symptoms if you have risk factors for developing more complicated pneumonia. Make sure to reach out to a health care professional if you are over 65 years old, have a preexisting lung condition, and/or have a compromised immune system.
If you have already been diagnosed with pneumonia, you may have additional testing to learn more about the cause and severity of your condition. Follow-up testing can also be used to observe how well treatment is working.
A Lukewarm Bath Or Compress
Soaking the body in lukewarm water may help cool it down.
If it is not possible to take a bath, apply towels or washcloths to the body after dunking them in lukewarm water and wringing them out. This may help the body cool. When the towels warm up, dip them in the water again and reapply.
Chills are often a secondary symptom of a fever. The following home remedies may help ease chills:
How Is Walking Pneumonia Treated
Walking pneumonia is generally treated with antibiotics. Mild infections are often not treated because they tend to clear on their own. With treatment, most people begin to feel better within a few days.
Many over-the-counter medicines used for colds and flus may not help with complete relief of symptoms of walking pneumonia. It’s important to talk with your doctor about any medicines you are taking or planning to take. It’s also important to drink plenty of fluids and to give yourself time to rest.
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Tests To Assess Lung Function
Pneumonia directly affects the lungs, so the doctor may recommend one or more pulmonary function tests to check how well your lungs are working to provide oxygen to your body.
One type of pulmonary function test is pulse oximetry, which checks whether there is enough oxygen in your blood. The test uses a sensor clipped to your ear or finger that estimates your blood oxygen levels.
Another way of evaluating your blood oxygen levels is with an arterial blood gases test. This test uses a sample of blood taken from an artery and measures the amount of oxygen, blood pH, and carbon dioxide.
Diagnostic Tests And Procedures
If your doctor thinks you have pneumonia, he or she may do one or more of the following tests.
- Chest X-ray to look for inflammation in your lungs. A chest X-ray is often used to diagnose pneumonia.
- Blood tests, such as a complete blood count to see whether your immune system is fighting an infection.
- Pulse oximetry to measure how much oxygen is in your blood. Pneumonia can keep your lungs from moving enough oxygen into your blood. To measure the levels, a small sensor called a pulse oximeter is attached to your finger or ear.
If you are in the hospital, have serious symptoms, are older, or have other health problems, your doctor may do other tests to diagnose pneumonia.
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How Do You Prevent Pneumonia
Getting a flu shot and a pneumonia vaccine can help protect you against the bacteria, says Dr. Dass. “Our bodies can usually clear the virus or bacteria with lots of rest and good nutrition before it turns into pneumonia,” she explains. “However, with today’s increased stress levels and decreased sleep hours, our immune systems are not in optimal shape. Lack of rest, high stress, poor diet/nutrition, and sedentary lifestyle all help fuel the onset of pneumonia.”
Considering pneumonia is “one of the most common and lethal medical conditions doctors see,” it’s a very important topic to be aware of, adds Dr. Dass. “In the most recent National Health Statistics Report published in 2018, pneumonia accounted for 0.5 percent of all emergency room visits. If you take into account all emergency room visits or office visits where this was the main issue, this accounts for more than 4.5 million people.”
Both doctors agree that staying vaccinated and staying vigilant are crucial well beyond cold and flu season. Be sure to visit your doctor as soon as you feel something’s not quite right.
Physical Exam For Pneumonia
When you visit your doctor for suspected pneumonia, he or she will check:
- Your heart rate. It may be faster if you have a fever or are dehydrated.
- Your temperature. You usually have a fever in pneumonia.
- Your breathing. Fast, shallow breathing difficulty breathing and shortness of breath often are symptoms of pneumonia.
- Whether you have chest pain.
- Your oxygen level.
- Other symptoms, if you have any. For example, rash may develop in some people who have pneumonia. Other symptoms may include fatigue, muscle aches, nausea, vomiting, cough, and dehydration. Complications of pneumonia may include stiff neck , swollen joints, and abdominal pain.
Your doctor also will listen to your chest for:
- Crackling or bubbling noises made by movement of fluid in the tiny air sacs of the lung.
- Dull thuds heard when the chest is tapped , which indicate that there is fluid in a lung or collapse of part of a lung.
- Sounds made by rubbing of swollen lung tissue on the lining of the lung cavity .
- Lack of breath sounds in a certain area of the chest, which may mean that air is not entering an area of the lung.
- Wheezing, which usually means inflammation or spasm is present in the bronchial tubes.
- “E” to “A” changes in the lungs . Your doctor may have you say the letter “E” while he listens to your chest. Pneumonia may cause the “E” to sound like the letter “A” when heard through a stethoscope.
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Types Of Pneumonia Tests
Various types of pneumonia tests may be performed based on a patients symptoms and overall health. In most cases, initial testing for pneumonia involves a physical examination, medical history review, and a chest x-ray. These steps often allow for an initial diagnosis to be made.
Recommendations for further testing are tailored to a patients situation. In general, patients who have more severe symptoms, may require hospitalization, or who are at higher risk of complications are more likely to undergo additional pneumonia testing.
The following sections provide details about the different types of tests that may be involved in the diagnosis and evaluation of pneumonia.
What Are The Main Differences Between Bacterial And Viral Pneumonia
Common symptoms of pneumonia include3
- difficulty breathing
- increased breathing rate
When a patient presents with these symptoms, the next step is to examine the lungs with a stethoscope. With pneumonia, decreased breath sounds, wheezing, or crackles on listening to the lungs, are all indications that can help point towards a diagnosis. The next step is to order a radiograph or X-ray if pneumonia is suspected.
The radiograph still remains the reference standard for a medical diagnosis of pneumonia, and also helps to differentiate between bacterial and viral pneumonia. However, a combination of clinical symptoms, exam findings, and imaging is the best way to uncover the most likely culprit.3,4
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Key Points About Pneumonia
Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi.
There are more than 30 different causes of pneumonia, and theyre grouped by the cause. The main types of pneumonia are bacterial, viral, and mycoplasma pneumonia.
A cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus is the most common symptom of pneumonia. Other symptoms include fever, shaking chills, shortness of breath, low energy, and extreme tiredness.
Pneumonia can often be diagnosed with a thorough history and physical exam. Tests used to look at the lungs, blood tests, and tests done on the sputum you cough up may also be used.
Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have. Antibiotics are used for bacterial pneumonia. It may also speed recovery from mycoplasma pneumonia and some special cases. Most viral pneumonias dont have a specific treatment and just get better on their own. Other treatment may include a healthy diet, more fluids, rest, oxygen therapy, and medicine for pain, cough, and fever control.
Most people with pneumonia respond well to treatment, but pneumonia can cause serious lung and infection problems. It can even be deadly.
Take Steps To Protect Yourself And Others
The following steps can help you prevent spreading the infection to others around you.
- Cover your nose and mouth while coughing or sneezing.
- Get rid of used tissues right away.
- Limit contact with family and friends.
- Wash your hands often, especially after coughing and sneezing.
Some people get pneumonia again and again. Tell your doctor if this happens. Return to Prevention to find more strategies to help prevent pneumonia.
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How Can I Help Myself Feel Better
If your doctor has prescribed medicine, follow the directions carefully.
You may feel better in a room with a humidifier, which increases the moisture in the air and soothes irritated lungs. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids, especially if you have a fever. If you have a fever and feel uncomfortable, ask the doctor whether you can take over-the-counter medicine such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen to bring it down. But don’t take any medicine without checking first with your doctor a cough suppressant, for example, may not allow your lungs to clear themselves of mucus.
And finally, be sure to rest. This is a good time to sleep, watch TV, read, and lay low. If you treat your body right, it will repair itself and you’ll be back to normal in no time.
Whats The Outlook For People With Pneumonia
The time that it takes to recover from pneumonia can vary by individual. Some may find that they can go back to their normal routine in about a week. Others may need some additional time to recover. Sometimes tiredness and fatigue can linger for several weeks.
Illness may also be more severe in at-risk groups like young children, older adults, and people with underlying conditions. These groups often require hospitalization and close monitoring through their treatment and recovery.
What about the different causes of pneumonia? The time until symptoms improve can also depend on whats causing your infection.
In bacterial pneumonia, you may begin to feel better after several days of antibiotic treatment. Viral pneumonia typically improves in while fungal pneumonia may require taking antifungal medications for weeks or even months.
what to do while recovering
Remember, the germs that cause pneumonia can be contagious. While youre recovering, be sure to do the following:
- limit contact with others
- cover your nose and mouth when you cough
- wash your hands frequently
- throw away any used tissues promptly in a covered container
Be sure to speak to your doctor about when you can go back to your normal activities. Your doctor may also want to schedule a follow-up chest X-ray to make sure that your infection has completely cleared.
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Causes Of Pneumonia In Children
Children are vulnerable to developing pneumonia from viruses, bacteria, and other microorganisms. Pneumonia often develops as a complication of another disease like the flu or a viral upper respiratory infection. Our nose and throat passageways allow microorganisms to get into our airways and infect the air sacs of our lungs.
Respiratory syncytial virus is a virus often found in children with pneumonia who are 5 years old or younger. Children younger than 1 year old have an increased risk of pneumonia if they are exposed to secondhand smoke. The following conditions can make children more likely to get pneumonia from microorganisms:
- Compromised immune system
- Chronic health issues like cystic fibrosis or asthma
- Lung or airway problems
Is Pneumonia Contagious
Certain types of pneumonia are contagious . Pneumonia caused by bacteria or viruses can be contagious when the disease-carrying organisms are breathed into your lungs. However, not everyone who is exposed to the germs that cause pneumonia will develop it.
Pneumonia caused by fungi are not contagious. The fungi are in soil, which becomes airborne and inhaled, but it is not spread from person to person.
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How Is It Treated
Antibiotics are the usual treatment, because the organism may not be found. But if the pneumonia is caused by a virus, antivirals may be given. Sometimes, antibiotics may be used to prevent complications.
Antibiotics usually cure pneumonia caused by bacteria. Be sure to take the antibiotics exactly as instructed. Do not stop taking them just because you feel better. You need to take the full course of antibiotics.
Pneumonia can make you feel very sick. But after you take antibiotics, you should start to feel much better, although you will probably not be back to normal for several weeks. Call your doctor if you do not start to feel better after 2 to 3 days of antibiotics. Call your doctor right away if you feel worse.
There are things you can do to feel better during your treatment. Get plenty of rest and sleep, and drink lots of liquids. Do not smoke. If your cough keeps you awake at night, talk to your doctor about using cough medicine.
You may need to go to the hospital if you have bad symptoms, a weak immune system, or another serious illness.
What Are The Symptoms
Symptoms of pneumonia may include:
- Cough. You will likely cough up mucus from your lungs. Mucus may be rusty or green or tinged with blood.
- Fever, chills, and sweating.
- Feeling very tired or very weak.
When you have less severe symptoms, your doctor may call this “walking pneumonia.”
Older adults may have different, fewer, or milder symptoms. They may not have a fever. Or they may have a cough but not bring up mucus. The main sign of pneumonia in older adults may be a change in how well they think. Confusion or delirium is common. Or, if they already have a lung disease, that disease may get worse.
Symptoms caused by viruses are the same as those caused by bacteria. But they may come on slowly and often are not as obvious or as bad.
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Questions About Your Symptoms
Bacterial pneumonia, which is the most common form, tends to be more serious than other types of pneumonia, with symptoms that require medical care. The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or suddenly. Fever may rise as high as a dangerous 105 degrees F, with profuse sweating and rapidly increased breathing and pulse rate. Lips and nailbeds may have a bluish color due to lack of oxygen in the blood. A patient’s mental state may be confused or delirious.
The symptoms of viral pneumonia usually develop over a period of several days. Early symptoms are similar to influenza symptoms: fever, a dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness. Within a day or two, the symptoms typically get worse, with increasing cough, shortness of breath and muscle pain. There may be a high fever and there may be blueness of the lips.
Symptoms may vary in certain populations. Newborns and infants may not show any signs of the infection. Or, they may vomit, have a fever and cough, or appear restless, sick, or tired and without energy. Older adults and people who have serious illnesses or weak immune systems may have fewer and milder symptoms. They may even have a lower than normal temperature. Older adults who have pneumonia sometimes have sudden changes in mental awareness. For individuals that already have a chronic lung disease, those symptoms may worsen.
When to call a doctor
Tests To Find The Cause Of Pneumonia
Pneumonia testing may include a range of tests to identify why pneumonia occurred. There are many potential causes of pneumonia including an infection with a bacteria, virus, or fungus. When the cause is known, the doctor can choose a tailored therapy that offers the most benefit and least risk.
This kind of testing is not routinely performed in patients with mild cases of pneumonia. Trying to identify the cause is of greater importance when a patient is hospitalized or at higher risk of severe complications from pneumonia.
Although many tests are available to look for the underlying cause, in the majority of cases, no single cause can be conclusively identified.
The following sections describe different types of tests that may be used to detect the cause of pneumonia. Each section is organized based on the type of sample that is used for testing.
Sputum is a thick kind of mucus produced in the lungs that is also known as phlegm. It is distinct from saliva or spit because its thickness helps it trap and remove pathogens from the lungs. For this reason, sputum can be analyzed to check for signs of bacteria, viruses, or other pathogens.
There are three main ways that a sputum sample can be obtained. The least invasive way of collecting sputum is by coughing deeply so that sputum can be spit into a cup. Before this, you may inhale a vapor that makes it easier to produce a testable amount of sputum.
Throat or nasal swab tests
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