Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, and it is caused by many different types of microorganisms including bacteria, viruses, fungi and even parasites. In many cases, pneumonia in children comes following infection from influenza, adenovirus, croup and RSV, as well as other common types of illness including what is often the culprit, an upper respiratory infection. In children, it may be somewhat easier to determine the type of underlying infection that is causing the illness.
In cases of viral pneumonia, symptom onset may be delayed. They may start to appear gradually over a couple of days, and become progressively worse. The symptoms of pneumonia caused by viruses in children may be less severe than those caused by bacteria, although it is not uncommon for certain symptoms to perhaps be more prevalent, like coughing and wheezing. The walking form of the condition, a common type of pneumonia in children, is often the result of a viral infection and may present even milder symptoms, with some children being able to attend school without issue. Walking pneumonia symptoms may be seem much more similar to a cold or a mild case of the flu than pneumonia. Additionally, walking pneumonia may create unusual symptoms not normally characteristic of the condition such as a rash, sore throat and a headache.
On the other hand, bacterial pneumonia often brings about symptoms rapidly, and a very high fever and very fast breathing at the onset of the illness. This is one of the telltale signs that the infection is serious in nature, and likely requires antibiotics and medical care for prompt treatment. Antibiotics for pneumonia are only useful in this type of infection and are often needed for a period of a couple of days for symptoms to begin to subside.
Though the symptoms may vary in severity, many are common in both main types of pneumonia in children. Nasal Congestion and a cough along with fever and chills are some of the most common pneumonia symptoms. Additionally, changes in breathing including wheezing, increase in rate, grunting or apparent labored breathing may also present. Pain may persist in the chest or the abdomen, and this can be exacerbated if nausea or other gastrointestinal symptoms like vomiting and appetite changes are evident. More severe symptoms include changes in color to the skin and lips and even the fingernails, and these serious symptoms indicate that medical care should be sought out immediately.
This distinction in root causes is likely part of what is responsible for the common mistake between bronchitis and pneumonia in children. Sometimes, when symptoms are mild, differentiating between a mild case of bronchitis vs pneumonia can be difficult, especially if telltale symptoms like fever and chills are not present, which sometimes occurs with bronchitis in children. However, doctors are easily able to diagnose pneumonia in children by analyzing their symptoms and sometimes by using chest X-rays, if a determination cannot easily be made.
Pneumonia treatment is intimately related to these symptoms and the age and health of the child. All children should be seen by a health care provider as soon as possible if pneumonia is suspected. In infants, the condition can be considered an emergency in many cases. Additionally, if a child is coughing up blood or the skin, nails or lips have started to turn blue, the condition should be considered an emergency. If bacterial pneumonia is present, antibiotics are used in order to treat the underlying cause of the infection. Home treatment is necessary in all cases of pneumonia, with increased rest and fluids and prescribed medications being the primary method of care. Sometimes, a nebulizer may be necessary if wheezing becomes persistent. When treating pneumonia in children at home, it is important to follow all the instructions that a health care provider gives, including those regarding over the counter medication. It is not safe to give certain medications to children at certain ages, and these should be discussed with a health care provider to ensure safety.
Some vaccines are available to help prevent pneumonia in children. And, since the pneumonia contagious period varies based on what type of microorganism is causing the illness, it spreads rather easily from child to child. Thus another important preventative measure is to keep children away from others who are visibly sick, and keep them at home if they themselves appear to be very ill. Additionally, frequent hand washing and limiting contact are also important to preventing the spread of the illness, and ultimately helping to prevent children from getting pneumonia in the first place.