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Pneumonia is a type of lung infection. It can cause breathing problems and other symptoms. In community-acquired pneumonia (CAP), you get infected in a community setting. It doesn’t happen in a hospital, nursing home, or other healthcare center.
Your lungs are part of your respiratory system. This system supplies fresh oxygen to your blood and removes carbon dioxide, a waste product. When you breathe in air through your nose and mouth, it reaches the tiny air sacs of the lung (alveoli) through a series of tubes. From here, oxygen flows into your blood. Carbon dioxide flows out into the alveoli. You then breathe it out.
Many germs can grow inside your body and cause disease. Specific types of germs can cause lung infection and pneumonia when they invade. These germs can cause your respiratory system to work poorly. For example, oxygen may not be able to get into your blood as easily. That can cause shortness of breath. If your body can’t get enough oxygen to survive, pneumonia may lead to death.
These germs can spread from person to person. When someone infected with one of these germs sneezes or coughs, you might breathe the germs into your lungs. If your immune system doesn’t kill the invaders, the germs might grow and cause pneumonia.
CAP can result from infection with many types of germs. These include bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. Symptoms from pneumonia can range from mild to severe. Certain types of germs are more likely to lead to serious infection.
CAP is very common, especially during the winter months. It is more common in older adults. But it can affect people of any age. It can be very serious. That’s often the case in older adults or people with other health problems.
Many different types of germs can cause pneumonia. But certain types cause CAP more often. Worldwide, Streptococcus pneumoniae is a bacteria that is most often responsible for CAP in adults. Some other common bacteria that cause CAP are:
The influenza (flu) virus is the major viral cause of CAP. Having the flu also makes you more likely to get bacterial pneumonia. This type is often worse than viral pneumonia. Other types of viruses can also cause CAP, such as parainfluenza virus, echovirus, adenovirus, and coxsackivirus. In fact, viruses are likely responsible for most episodes of CAP. Fungi and parasites may also cause CAP.
Certain things may raise your risk for CAP. Some of these are:
You also have a higher risk if you come into contact with other people who have pneumonia.
Symptoms of CAP often develop quickly. These symptoms may include:
Your healthcare provider might notice other signs. These are a fast heartbeat, fast rate of breathing, or specific sounds on a lung exam.
Your healthcare provider will ask about your more recent symptoms and your past health problems. He or she will also do a physical exam, including a careful exam of your lungs.
Lab tests can be very helpful in diagnosing CAP. Some tests you might need are:
Your treatment may vary based on your symptoms and the type of germ causing the pneumonia. If you have severe pneumonia, you will likely need to stay in the hospital for some time. If you only have mild symptoms, you can probably get treatment at home.
Antibiotics are a key treatment for bacterial CAP. Your healthcare provider will likely start you on this medicine even before identifying the type of bacteria (or other germ). The type of antibiotic can vary based on the germs known to be in your community, as well as your other health problems. Your healthcare provider will want to treat you with an antibiotic that is likely to kill whatever germ is causing your illness. However, antibiotics are of no help in treating viral pneumonia and can often cause more harm than good.
If you are getting treatment at home, you will probably take an antibiotic by mouth for a week or so. In most cases, you will start to feel better a few days after you start treatment.
If you need to stay in the hospital, you will also need antibiotics specific to your case. In some cases, you may need to take these by IV (intravenously). Your healthcare provider might first start you on a certain antibiotic and then switch you to another one as your blood tests show what kind of germ is causing your infection. You may also need extra support, such as:
Most people start responding to treatment within a few days. A small portion of people who are treated in the hospital don’t respond to treatment within this time. If your symptoms don’t end, you may need a different antibiotic or treatment for complications from CAP.
Lung abscess and, rarely, empyema are possible complications of CAP. In empyema, a collection of pus builds in the space between the lung and the chest wall. You usually need antibiotics and drainage to treat it. A CT scan can often help diagnose these problems.
Respiratory failure and death are other possible complications. These are more likely to happen in older people or people with other health problems.
You can lower your chances of getting CAP by having a yearly flu shot. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against S. pneumoniae and helps a lot in preventing CAP. Healthcare providers recommend this shot for all people older than 65. You may need it before this time if you have:
Smokers and people living in long-term care facilities should also get this shot before age 65. You may need a booster shot if you have your first pneumococcal vaccine before age 65 or if you have a weakened immune system.
Practicing good hygiene can also help you lower your risk for CAP. That includes frequent handwashing.
Seek treatment right away if you think you have pneumonia. If you are being treated for CAP as an outpatient, call your healthcare provider if your symptoms don’t start to go away within a few days.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
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