Pneumonia – Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Lung infection

Pneumonia or pneumonia is usually triggered in the colder seasons, such as winter or autumn Bacteria, fungi and viruses in particular play a key role in transmission. But other people’s coughing and sneezing can also lead to droplet infections and thus to pneumonia.

What is pneumonia?

If parts of the lungs, for example the alveoli or the interstitial tissue, become inflamed, this is referred to as pneumonia or pneumonia in the technical term . Rarely the whole lung is affected, only in serious cases bilateral pneumonia is possible. The whole lung tissue is affected.

Since the lungs are the only organ that regulates the exchange of oxygen, these diseases are to be taken very seriously and should always be treated by a doctor. Pneumonia is usually transmitted by droplet infection. This is done by sneezing , coughing , or speaking. But not all pneumonia is contagious.

Pneumonia is now the fifth deadly infectious disease. Hundreds of thousands of people (worldwide) fall ill with this misunderstood widespread disease every year.


Pneumonia is usually caused by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses or fungi. They are inhaled through the air and inflame the air sacs or lung tissue. But an allergy can also trigger pneumonia. A previous flu or bronchitis that has not been completely healed can also promote the disease.

Elderly people whose immune systems are weakened due to age and young children whose immune systems are not yet fully developed are also more susceptible. Another cause can be the inhalation of toxic gases, for example in the event of a fire. Radiation pneumonia is when a cancer patient develops pneumonia after the lung cancer has been irradiated .

A lung must be well ventilated. This does not happen as well in bedridden patients and in many cases leads to inflammation . Another cause can be insufficient blood flow to the lungs, caused by a pulmonary embolism . In some patients, the muscle at the entrance to the stomach no longer closes properly. Small amounts of stomach acid get into the trachea and are inhaled. This can also cause pneumonia.

Rarely, this disease is caused by inhaling food particles. Fluid retention in the lungs caused by certain heart diseases can also promote pneumonia.

Typical Symptoms & Signs

Pneumonia is typically accompanied by difficulty breathing , fever , and chills . The body temperature rises rapidly and can easily reach more than 40 degrees Celsius. In addition, those affected feel weak and listless. The body tries to pump more air into the lungs, which is noticeable in an increased breathing rate and an increased heart rate .

If these measures are not sufficient to counteract a lack of oxygen , the lips will turn blue. The nail bed can also be affected by this blue discoloration. Furthermore, coughing occurs in pneumonia , with the sputum becoming brownish in the later course of the disease. If the pleura is affected, there is also pain when breathing.

Elderly people in particular suffer from states of confusion and/or appear to be vegetating. If it is a so-called atypical pneumonia, the symptoms can vary greatly. In this case, the body temperature often rises only slightly and patients tend to suffer from a dry cough.

After the first week of illness, the fever abruptly subsides, which puts a heavy strain on the cardiovascular system. After another two weeks, the pneumonia is usually over. However, symptoms such as general weakness and mild breathing problems may still occur.

course of the disease

Basically, the symptoms of pneumonia are very specific, depending on the type of infection and the general health of the patient. With bacterial and classic inflammation of the lungs, the patient has a dry cough , accompanied by chest pains , accompanied by shortness of breath .

When coughing up later , the mucus is very viscous, green-yellow to brownish. High fever alternates with sudden chills . The lungs are painful and sometimes radiate to the lower abdomen. If you have pneumonia caused by a virus or parasite, the symptoms are a little different.

It is accompanied by a low-grade fever and the patient has no chills. Hardly any phlegm comes off the dry cough. A misdiagnosis can certainly be given, because the symptoms are similar to the flu . To be sure, an X-ray of the lungs is useful. In the case of classic pneumonia, the doctor can make the diagnosis by listening to the lungs and taking a blood sample.


Complications from pneumonia can occur both inside and outside the lungs. This risk arises primarily when pneumonia is not treated in time or when the disease is protracted. The same applies to additional comorbidities.

Most often, the sequelae appear within the lungs. It is not uncommon for there to be a risk of oxygen deficiency, in which case the patient’s breathing is so severely impeded that it is no longer possible to take in sufficient oxygen. Carbon dioxide can no longer be exhaled either.

In the case of severe pneumonia, a pleural effusion is possible. This causes fluid to accumulate between the chest and lungs. The most common therapeutic measure is a pleural puncture. One of the feared complications of pneumonia is blood poisoning (sepsis).

It occurs when the bacteria that caused the pneumonia spread through the bloodstream to the rest of the body. As a result, there is a risk of failure of several important organs such as the heart and kidneys. Therefore, blood poisoning is a life-threatening condition.

However, complications are also conceivable outside of the lungs, because the cause of the disease can spread throughout the body. This sometimes leads to infections such as pericarditis (inflammation of the heart), endocarditis (inflammation of the lining of the heart), meningitis (inflammation of the meninges), or a brain abscess. Arthritis (inflammation of the joints) or osteomyelitis (inflammation of the bone marrow) can also occur.

When should you go to the doctor?

Although pneumonia can also resolve spontaneously, a doctor should always be consulted if there is any suspicion. If clear symptoms such as coughing with sputum, shortness of breath, reduced performance or even a bluish discoloration of fingertips and nails occur, it must be clarified whether these symptoms are due to pneumonia or have other reasons.

Pneumonia is the result of carried germs, mostly they start with a supposedly harmless cold. If procrastination occurs, this is a clear signal that the immune system is weakened, which is why the patient needs drug treatment now at the latest.

Although pneumonia can be persistent, it resolves more quickly with the right antibiotic treatment than without medical attention. Especially in older people, children and people with previous illnesses, especially of the respiratory tract, a doctor should always be consulted even if pneumonia is suspected. These patient groups are the ones most likely to develop complications.

After the diagnosis and during treatment, regular doctor’s appointments should also be kept for check-ups. In an emergency, it can be recognized early enough if the pneumonia does not heal quickly enough or if there are signs of complications in the healing process. Since pneumonia is contagious and rest is important during this time, the patient should take sick leave during the acute phase.

Treatment & Therapy

Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics , which must be taken consistently. It is very important that the patient drinks a lot to encourage coughing up the thick phlegm . Extreme rest and bed rest are imperative. Inhalation also brings relief when coughing up.

Not only medication should be given to help reduce the fever, but calf wraps should also be applied. The supply of fresh air is also very important, so the room should be ventilated often. Smokers should avoid tobacco altogether. If the pneumonia is very severe, infusions and oxygen ventilation are often unavoidable. Therapy with breathing exercises to improve ventilation of the lungs is also useful.

In the case of a severe form of pneumonia, a hospital stay is unavoidable. In milder cases, treatment at home is also possible. However, in order to give the appropriate therapy to the patient, it is very important to determine the type of pneumonia.

Outlook & Forecast

In the case of pneumonia, the prognosis depends on various factors. The causative pathogen, the patient’s general defenses and the choice of therapy are decisive. For example, younger and healthy patients have a better prognosis than older patients or certain pre-existing conditions (e.g. heart disease).

If there are no risk factors, outpatient treatment is usually sufficient and the mortality rate is less than two percent. If inpatient treatment becomes necessary, the reported mortality rate is between two and ten percent. In the case of what is known as pneumococcal pneumonia, the mortality rate is still very high at 20 percent; in the case of very severe forms, an average of 20 to 50 percent of all patients die. The prognosis for so-called nosocomial pneumonia, i.e. pneumonia acquired in hospital, is often significantly worse. The pathogens are very stubborn and have often already developed resistance, which is why antibiotic therapies hardly help.

It is assumed that around 40,000 to 50,000 people in Germany die of severe pneumonia every year. The number of pneumonia increases during periods of severe flu, which is why immunocompromised patients in particular develop pneumonia from flu.


Most patients with healthy immune systems are able to completely eliminate a disease. It is important to prevent them from reoccurring. The preventive measures include, for example, avoiding a recurrence of the disease and protecting the respiratory tract.

Sometimes sage tea and other naturopathic remedies help speed recovery. According to the scientific state of the art, immunity does not exist after a single illness. Patients can therefore become infected again and again. Possible complications should not be underestimated. They often cause long-term damage.

Lung failure in particular can have life-threatening consequences. It is therefore advisable to use “simple” methods such as a walk on the beach during aftercare. The salty sea air helps open the bronchi and makes breathing easier. Alternatively, a visit to a salt cave can help. Since pneumonia takes a long time to recover, those affected should rest for a while after the acute phase of the disease. This also includes abstaining from sporting activities. These should only be resumed very cautiously in order to prevent a relapse and a worsening of the state of health.

You can do that yourself

In addition to medical therapy, various self-help measures and home remedies can be used in the event of pneumonia. First of all, it is important to drink a lot (at least two to three liters a day) and to stay in bed . A balanced and healthy diet can support recovery. Patients should therefore take in plenty of vitamins , minerals and proteins, for example through oatmeal, legumes and chicken, as well as fruit and vegetables that do not irritate the nasopharynx.

Warm water vapor helps clear mucus in the airways and relieves pain. Eucalyptus oil or lavender oil enhance the positive effects. Various natural resources also help. Ginger , for example, has proven itself . The natural remedy can help especially with the onset of pneumonia and positively influence the course of the disease. Raw garlic is also a powerful natural antibiotic . The bulbous plant helps against infections caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, reduces fever and has an expectorant effect. Garlic is recommended as a gentle household remedy, especially for small children and babies – for example in the form of garlic soup or as a paste with lemon juice and honey.

Older patients and the chronically ill should be vaccinated against pneumococci as a precaution . This is also possible after surviving pneumonia.

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Hello! I am Lisa Newlon, and I am a medical writer and researcher with over 10 years of experience in the healthcare industry. I have a Master’s degree in Medicine, and my deep understanding of medical terminology, practices, and procedures has made me a trusted source of information in the medical world.