A Comprehensive Guide To Pneumonia

Medically reviewed by Aaron Wiegmann, MD, MS Plastic Surgeon February 29, 2024| Written by Abdul Jabbar

A Comprehensive Guide To Pneumonia

Your breath is what keeps you alive, and that’s why the lungs are crucial to life. If your lungs were compromised somehow, so would your breathing and quality of life. 

But for someone who can’t breathe properly, the body begins to shut down. 

It's a sobering thought, isn't it? But that’s exactly what makes ‘Pneumonia’ dangerous.

Statistics show that if not treated properly, pneumonia can lead to defects in thefunctions of the brain and heart while weakening your nervous system due to hypoxia or a lack of oxygen. 

The same study found that pneumonia may trigger dementia symptoms earlier than expected timeline. 12.5% of people who were already assessed for dementia showed worsening signs of dementia within 2 years of getting hospitalized for pneumonia. 

Let’s understand this infection better so we can best deal with this issue. 

So, in this article, we’ll discuss why this disease plays a major part in mortality rates, its causes, duration, diagnosis, types, stages, and methods of transmission. We’ll also delve into how dietary and lifestyle changes can help us deal with pneumonia. 

What is Pneumonia?

Science definespneumonia as an infection that affects one or both lungs. Normally your body filters germs out of the air that you breathe. But sometimes germs like bacteria, viruses, or fungi can cause lung infections.


When these germs get into your lungs, your body's natural defense (or your Immune system) goes into action. This makes your lungs a small battleground. But just as wars cause destruction, this battle in your lungs causes inflammation. 

And so, the air sacs, or alveoli of the lungs, can fill up with fluid or pus.

Since humans can’t breathe in liquid, symptoms begin to appear, including coughing up phlegm and difficulty breathing. 

It’s kinda like your lungs are being drowned, and that’s a scary thing to imagine.

So, let’s focus on the facts! And understand what causes this infection: 

Causes of Pneumonia

They say trouble comes in threes, and when it comes to pneumonia, this statement is true. After all, pneumonia can be caused by three kinds of germs - viruses, bacteria, and fungi.  

Research shows thatbacterial pneumonia causes the most burden on the healthcare system as it’s the most prevalent form of pneumonia. One form of bacterial pneumonia is called ‘atypical pneumonia,’ which doesn’t show ‘typical’ symptoms of regular pneumonia. It’s when different bacteria act together and create unique chaos in the lungs. 

Viruses can also infect your lungs and airways, causing pneumonia. The flu and the common cold are top contenders when it comes to the most common causes of viral pneumonia in adults. This is why the health authorities stress you wear a mask if you’ve got a cold.

After all, spreading the infection may cause a mortal risk to the immunocompromised and children if you have a mild cold. 

The same rule goes for other viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 and respiratory syncytial virus - the viruses responsible for COVID-19 and RSV.

Risk Factors

Your risk for pneumonia may be higher because of your age, environment, lifestyle habits, and other medical conditions. Racial and ethnic differences may also play a role. 

For instance, surveys have shown that the mortality rate of pneumonia is about16% higher in black people compared to white people

Perhaps, the biggest risk factor for contracting pneumonia is ignoring early signs. It’s because delaying appointments to see a healthcare provider may result in adverse consequences, as infections can be treated better if caught early on. 

1. Age Groups

Though Pneumonia affects people of all ages, infants and people above 65 are more vulnerable. It’s because the immune system of infants and young children is still not fully developed. And so, pneumonia strikes them hard.

As for the seasoned bunch (i.e. people above 65), the survey of Natural Library and Medicine has shown thatadults aged 65 or above are at a higher risk of pneumonia because their immune systems weaken with age. It may also be because of their other chronic health issues. 

That’s why both infants and people above 65 have a hard time dealing with pneumonia.

All in all, this disease is a leading cause of hospitalization in both children and adults. Most cases can be treated successfully, although it can take weeks to fully recover.

2.Environment or Occupation

Most people catch an infection from their community. So, people who spend a lot of time in crowded places will have a greater risk. 

If your work involves inhaling fumes, that can also increase pneumonia risk. That’s also why the risk is higher if you regularly breathe in polluted air. And so, living in countries with higher air pollution indexes also increases pneumonia risk. 

Evidence proves pneumonia to be “the ultimate disease of poverty” as resource-poor places are shown to be more at risk of damage from this infection. Resource-poor places, due to scarcity, result in overcrowded areas and overworked people, which can lead to community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). 

On top of that, a lack of health facilities and hygiene facilities can already lead to the population's weakened immunity, fighting off previous infections while putting them at risk for more. Resource-poor countries also have a high number on the air pollution index, in which bad air quality leads to more respiratory diseases. 

3.Lifestyle Habits

We sure have heard the phrase: “Smoking is injurious to health.” But about time we listen to this advice because smoke damages the lungs and makes them more susceptible to pneumonia.  Studies show therisk of community-acquired pneumonia in smokers is approximately 1.5 times that of non-smokers.

Using drugs oralcohol, in fact, puts you at risk of your ability to fight off pneumonia due to their effect of weakening your organs and immune system’s ability to fight off infections. 

4.Other Medical Conditions

If you’re already sick with something, you must be extra careful. You may have an increased risk of pneumonia if you have any of the following medical conditions:

  • Brain disorders, such as a stroke, a head injury, dementia, or Parkinson’s disease
  • Pregnancy, HIV/AIDS, or an organ or bone marrow transplant
  • Chemotherapy
  • Critical diseases that require hospitalization
  • Lung diseases
  • Malnutrition
  • Diabetes 
  • Heart issues or sickle cell anemia 
  • Liver or kidney problems 


Remember, the key to prevention is also to recognize early symptoms and go for a check-up with the doctor. So, keep an eye out for the following symptoms:

  • Rapid or troubled breathing
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Rapid pulse
  • Persistent cough that may produce green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Fever (this can be as high as 105°)
  • Blue-colored lips and fingernails
  • Confusion or delirium (especially if the disease is severe or in adults aged at least 65)
  • Heavy sweating
  • Sharp stabbing chest pain when breathing or coughing


Surely, hospital and clinic visits may seem a daunting task to some; it’s better to see the physician now rather than suffer later. So, if you have the symptoms of pneumonia, visit the doctor right away to get diagnosed and treated properly. 

But it may help you prepare if you know whatpossible procedures to expect: 

1. A ChestX-ray

An X-ray uses a minimal amount of radiation to take a good look at your lungs, their inflammation, and possible liquid. 

2. A Blood Test

While a prick of the needle can be scary, a blood test helps in estimating the severity of a patient’s condition. 

3. A Sputum Test

Sputum is a thick substance that accumulates in the lungs or bronchi when bacteria or fungi accumulate and can make breathing harder or even cause coughing.

A sputum test involves you coughing hard from deep inside the chest and spitting it into a container.

Hacking up phlegm may feel embarrassing, but this test will help the pathologist see whether there is a bacterium, virus, or fungus in your lungs.

4. Computed Tomography Scans

In rare cases, CT scans are used for a detailed assessment of the lungs. This advanced imaging technique just requires you to lie down and not move while the machine takes your scan. 

Pneumonia, a common yet oftenunderestimated respiratory infection, can affect individuals of all ages.  Observation has shown pneumonia is thesingle largest infectious cause of death in childrenworldwide. In 2019, it accounted for 22% of all deaths in children aged 1 to 5 years.

So yes, this is a major factor in children's mortality every year, which makes it a huge cost to the healthcare system.

Duration of the Infection

The time it takes to get better will always depend on many factors. While you might find your mild infection to be resolved within one to three weeks with the appropriate and timely treatment, note that a longer time is expected with more severe cases.

While technological advancement and medical analysis have paved the way for more effective and targeted treatment, some factors still account for the duration of a person’s recovery.

The overall health of the individual matters; for example, someone with a weaker immune system will find it harder to recover. This is also why it’s important to maintain your immunity!

The kind of pathogen causing the infection also decides the duration. Some pathogens are more resilient than others — prolonging the body's battle and healing process.

Types of Pneumonia

Pneumonia can be divided into distinct types based on characteristics and the causative agents. Physicians tend to diagnose it according tothe setting where the infection is caught.

1. Community-Acquired Pneumonia (CAP)

Community-acquired pneumonia (CAP) is the most prevalent, arising outside healthcare settings. This generally means anywhere other than the hospital.

2. Hospital-Acquired Pneumonia (HAP)

Hospital-acquired pneumonia (HAP) occurs during ahospital stay in assisted living facilities, rehabilitation facilities, and other healthcare facilities. Studies have shown it is the second most common nosocomial infection in the whole world -affecting 0.5 to 1.7% of hospitalized patients.

3. Ventilator-associated Pneumonia (VAP)

This is a subset of HAP, called Ventilator-associated pneumonia, affecting people affected by mechanical ventilation. This is especially true for those who are unconscious or paralyzed. 

The Four Stages 

Understanding the stages of pneumonia is crucial for both patients and healthcare providers. The infection typically progresses through four stages, including

Stage 1: Congestion

After 24 hours of contracting the infectious agent, congestion begins and lasts about a day. During this stage, the bacteria or virus takes hold in the lungs and causes an infection. Your lungs become inflamed and red due to the swelling of the alveoli and engorged blood vessels.

You might feel congested as fluid fills the alveolar sacs. 

Stage 2: Red Hepatization

This second stage of pneumonia happens two to three days after the infection develops. Red blood cells and immune cells both travel to your lungs to fight the infection. 

Stage 3: Grey Hepatization

This third stage of pneumonia usually lasts four to eight days. The lungs may start to develop a gray color due to the red blood cells breaking down. 

At the same time, special immune cells called macrophages enter the lungs.

Stage 4: Resolution

This healing and final stage of pneumonia occurs after the last stage. Here the immune cells and enzymes fight the infection, allowing pus to clear up. 

This is the stage you should be looking forward to as you start feeling better as well!

For some people, some scar tissue may show up in their X-rays after they heal to show recovery. 

How It Spreads? 

When it comes to a disease that affects the lungs, the primary source will be the airways to pass infection.

Pneumonia primarily spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets expelled during coughing or sneezing by an infected person. It's like passing the torch in a relay race – once it's in the air, it's up for grabs.

Inhaling the same pathogens present in the environment can create the same infection. This is where crowded rooms hold a greater risk.

Two kinds of Pneumococcal vaccinations help prevent the most common 20 types of pneumonia. Theresearch found that vaccinations have allowed the death rates of pneumonia to plummet significantly over the years, showing them to be effective in the fight against pneumonia.

Knowing the importance of vaccinations, and good respiratory hygiene, such as wearing masks along with reaching the doctor on a timely diagnosis, makes a great difference in the outcome of an infection.

Prevention is The Ultimate Key

In the end, even the microbes that cause this infection grow and change — so make sure that you are being vigilant about your health. Pneumonia can be caused by many different types of microbes, and in as many as 10% of pneumonia cases, there is more than one responsible for the infection. 

So, it's like trying to catch a slippery fish – the culprit can be elusive and ever-changing.

In fact,in almost half of the cases of adults andone-fifth of children, microbes aren’t even accurately identified. Sounds like an evolving and mysterious infection, doesn’t it? 

Analysis has also shown it isone of the major causes of sepsis. Thanks to technological advancement, new strategies are evolving that have helped reduce overall cases and even created more.

The better you stay informed about your health, the easier it will be to navigate. It’s essential to stay up to date with the latest research for better outcomes for yourself and your loved ones!

How can Dietary and Lifestyle Changes Help with Pneumonia?

Health is wealth! To prevent pneumonia, there are simple things you should keep in mind:

  • Practice good respiratory health, such as wearing a mask.
  • Get vaccinated, not just for pneumonia but also for influenza and hib.
  • Eat food that is protein-rich, anti-inflammatory, and full of antioxidants.
  • Avoid crowded rooms
  • Wash your hands with soap. Use sanitizer to kill germs.
  • Don’t smoke to keep your lungs healthy.
  • Nurture your immune system to stay strong by getting physical activity and eating healthy.
  • Keep a look out for symptoms.

A study done on people’s diets showed that increased consumption of coffee, tea, oily fish, and fruit was associated with alower risk of future pneumonia events. Red meat, on the other hand, shows adverse effects but doesn’t need to be avoided.

What’s more, anti-inflammatory foods work best to help with pneumonia as they aid in the body's ability to heal and regenerate tissues. Having them in your everyday diet is a great preventive measure! In the end, it’s important to keep your overall health and immunity in good condition as well!