What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a condition caused by the infection of one or both lungs. Inside our lungs, there are branching airways that progressively get smaller and end up as small air sacs. These sacs assist in the exchange of gases. When you contract pneumonia, the infection causes inflammation and the air sacs become filled with fluid, pus and debris. This hampers the exchange of gases and can lead to breathing problems and other serious complications. Significantly, pneumonia is the 3rd most common cause of hospitalisation in Singapore.
Pneumonia is most commonly caused by infection by bacteria or viruses, and in some rare cases, by fungi or parasites.
How do you contract pneumonia?
The germs that cause pneumonia are present around us. Some common germs include Streptococcus pneumoniae, Mycoplasma pneumonia and the influenza virus. These same germs can also cause cold symptoms. However, due to reduced immunity or other reasons, the infection can enter the lungs and cause pneumonia. Young children, the elderly, smokers or people with chronic diseases are more susceptible to getting pneumonia.
What are some of the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?
- Cough, which may produce green, yellow or even bloody phlegm
- Fever, sweating and shaking chills
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid, shallow breathing
- Sharp or stabbing chest pain that gets worse when you breathe deeply or cough
- Loss of appetite, low energy, and fatigue
This list is not exhaustive and not everyone will exhibit all the above symptoms. It is important to see your doctor if you suspect you may have pneumonia.
What will the GP do when he/she sees me?
During the consultation, your doctor will ask questions to assess the severity of your pneumonia and try to determine its underlying cause. He/She will examine you and listen to your lungs for any bubbling sounds (which can indicate infection).
A chest X-ray is helpful in diagnosing pneumonia and determining the extent and location of the infection. A blood test may be ordered to examine your white cell counts and inflammation levels. A throat swab or sputum test may also be conducted to determine the causative germ.
How will I be treated?
Your GP will first decide how serious your condition is. If you are well enough to be treated in the clinic, you may be prescribed a course of antibiotics and symptomatic medications for your cough, fever and phlegm. Ensure that you complete your antibiotics, so as to prevent incompletely treated infections.
If your condition requires it, your GP will refer you to a hospital for admission. There, you may receive stronger antibiotics, oxygen support, and intravenous infusion. In rare cases, some patients may end up needing ventilation support.
How to prevent pneumonia
Some compulsory childhood vaccines against Pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type B, Measles and Tuberculosis reduce the risk of pneumonia in children. It is highly recommended for children to receive two other non-compulsory vaccines – the seasonal influenza vaccine and the vaccine against Streptococcus pneumoniae.
All adults are encouraged to be vaccinated against influenza. Those above the age of 65 or with certain chronic medical conditions, are encouraged to receive vaccines against Streptococcus pneumoniae. Medisave may be utilised for some of these vaccines. Do check with your healthcare provider whether you are eligible.
Other general advice
Always practice good hand hygiene – wash your hands with water and soap after contact with surfaces outside and before eating or touching your face. A balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables help build immunity. Smoking cessation also reduces your chances of contracting pneumonia.
Publication: 20th May 2020