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What is pneumonia? Symptoms and treatment

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. Symptoms include cough and shortness of breath. Walking pneumonia is a non-medical term for a mild case of the illness.
/ Source: NBC News

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both of the lungs. It’s most often caused by bacteria — specifically Streptococcus pneumoniae — but it can also be caused by a viral or fungal infection. Pneumonia causes people to cough and have trouble breathing.

Severe and potentially fatal complications of pneumonia are possible, including difficulty breathing, respiratory failure and sepsis. It can strike anyone, at any age, and can pose a serious risk for infants, young children, elderly adults, people with weakened immune systems and those who smoke.

Acute bronchitis — an infection in the airways that lead into the lungs — is sometimes diagnosed as pneumonia, but a chest X-ray can help distinguish between the two.

What is walking pneumonia?

"Walking pneumonia" is basically a non-medical term for a mild case of the illness — when patients don't feel great, but they're not sick enough to stay home in bed or to be hospitalized. They’re walking around and continuing daily activities.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia?

The most common signs include cough, sometimes accompanied by greenish, yellow or bloody mucus; fever (in bacterial pneumonia, your temperature may reach 105 degrees); chills and shortness of breath.

Other symptoms include chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough; headache; excessive sweating and fatigue.

Is pneumonia contagious?

The bacteria and viruses that can cause pneumonia are contagious, but pneumonia itself isn’t, said NBC medical correspondent Dr. Natalie Azar.

The disease can be spread by coughing, sneezing or even breathing, the American Lung Association notes.

How long does pneumonia last?

Most healthy people recover from pneumonia in one to three weeks, but elderly patients may need longer treatment, according to the American Lung Association.

Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia a patient has. Medicines include antibiotics, antiviral medication and oxygen to increase oxygen in the blood.

There's a vaccine designed to protect people over 65 from pneumonia-causing streptococcal bacteria, but many other bacteria, from Staphylococcus to Mycoplasma pneumoniae, can cause pneumonia.