Health conditions

Pneumonia

  • Pneumonia is a bacterial or viral infection in your lungs.
  • It can cause mild to severe illness in people of all ages.
  • The condition can be life threatening if not treated. It's the leading cause of death in children under 5 years.

Pneumonia is often a complication of a pre-existing condition/infection and triggered when a patient's defence system is weakened, most often by a simple viral respiratory tract infection or a case of flu (influenza), especially in the elderly.

How do you get pneumonia?

Typical causes of pneumonia include bacteria and viruses.

Bacteria or viruses spread from person-to-person. This can occur through:

  • direct contact with respiratory secretions, such as saliva or mucus (coughing, sneezing)
  • touching surfaces contaminated with bacteria or virus particles (from coughing or sneezing) then touching your nose or mouth.
Who is most at risk?

People in the following categories have a higher risk of getting pneumonia and can develop more severe symptoms:

  • babies and very young children
  • people 65 years and over
  • people who have received an organ transplant
  • Aboriginal people with medical conditions, and who live in remote communities
  • people with:
    • asthma, emphysema, cystic fibrosis or other lung conditions
    • chronic diseases such as heart, kidney or liver disease and diabetes
  • people with a weak immune system
  • smokers.
What are the signs and symptoms?

Pneumonia can be a life-threatening condition. It’s important to recognise the signs and symptoms and to see a doctor if you have concerns, particularly if you or your young child have an existing medical condition.

Your symptoms will vary depending on your age and the severity of your infection.

Common pneumonia symptoms include:

  • feeling very unwell
  • difficulty breathing
  • fatigue
  • general malaise
  • loss of appetite
  • cough
  • abdominal ache
  • blue colouration around your mouth (cyanosis) – due to lack of oxygen
  • headaches and muscular pain.

Small children will:

  • be lethargic
  • have a temperature
  • be coughing and having difficulty in breathing
  • be reluctant to feed
  • be pale.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?

It is important to see your doctor promptly if you have respiratory symptoms causing concern, particularly if you notice these symptoms in young children.

Your doctor will conduct a general examination and may suggest some other tests including:

How is pneumonia treated?

Treatment will vary depending on your age and the type of infection you have.

Treatment options include:

  • medications to reduce your fever
  • anti-viral medication if your infection is viral
  • antibiotics if your infection is bacterial

Additional options include:

  • getting plenty of rest (sitting up rather than lying down)
  • drinking plenty of fluids
  • maintaining good hand hygiene and cough etiquette.

Hospital treatment may be required for vulnerable groups including:

  • babies
  • young children
  • the elderly.
How can pneumonia be prevented?

Pneumococcal vaccination is recommended and funded for children under 5. It is given at:

  • 6 to 8 weeks
  • 4 months
  • 6 months.

It is recommended that children with medical conditions are given an extra dose at 1 year and again between 4 and 5 years. This ensures they are protected against the many strains (90 in total) of pneumococcal disease.

The pneumococcal vaccine is also recommended for older people with medical conditions. This vaccine is funded for people with:

  • medical conditions
  • Aboriginal people with medical conditions
  • people 65 years and older.

People at risk should also consider being vaccinated against flu as flu often precedes a viral infection.

Where to get help

Remember

  • Pneumonia is a bacterial or viral infection in your lungs.
  • The condition can be life threatening if not treated.
  • You can be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia.
  • Children under 5 years and the people over 65 are at the most risk.

Acknowledgements

Public Health


This publication is provided for education and information purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical care. Information about a therapy, service, product or treatment does not imply endorsement and is not intended to replace advice from your healthcare professional. Readers should note that over time currency and completeness of the information may change. All users should seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional for a diagnosis and answers to their medical questions.

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