Health A to Z Last updated on 2022-11-23 15:25:49
Pneumonia in children: Some commonly asked questions!
- Dr. Swati Kaktikar
- 5 Min Read
- Fact Checked
The term pneumonia is derived from the ancient Greek word "pneumon," which means "lungs." So, pneumonia literally means "lung disease." It is a disease that causes pus or fluid to fill the air sacs in the lungs, causing distress to the child.
Pneumonia is more prevalent in children under the age of five. It is particularly common during the winter.
Is pneumonia contagious? Read here.
What causes pneumonia in babies and children under the age of five?
The majority of pneumonia cases are caused by viruses. However, viral pneumonia in babies is usually mild, but in some, it can become severe.
Bacteria can also cause pneumonia. When this happens, children can have severe symptoms.
The following are some of the most common bacteria and viruses that cause pneumonia:
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is the most common cause of viral pneumonia in children under the age of 5 years
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Group B Streptococcus
- Mycoplasma pneumonia
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Influenza virus
- Parainfluenza virus
Symptoms of pneumonia in babies
Each child's symptoms may be slightly different. They may also differ depending on what is causing pneumonia – while symptoms caused by viruses are often mild, those caused by bacteria can be severe.
Children, less than 5 years of age may or may not have fever associated with cough. Pneumonia is diagnosed if there is fast breathing and indrawing of the lower chest wall.
Wheezing may or may not be present.
Infants can have symptoms like being unable to feed/drink, lethargy, excessive drowsiness, hypothermia, and convulsions.
In older children, the symptoms may present as
- Presence or absence of Fever
- Dry cough or Cough that produces mucus
- Pain while coughing
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Chills, and
- Difficulty breathing
Sometimes, viral pneumonia can get complicated by secondary bacterial infection.
Which children are at risk for pneumonia?
A toddler is more likely to get pneumonia if they have
- A weak immune system
- Have chronic health issues like asthma or cystic fibrosis, or
- If they have problems with the airways of the lungs
Children under one are at increased risk if they're around secondhand tobacco smoke. This is especially true if their parents smoke.
What role does air pollution play in pneumonia?
Air pollution significantly increases the likelihood of pneumonia, accounting for roughly a third of all pediatric pneumonia deaths.
Indoor pollution from unclean fuel is far worse. It is responsible for more than 62% of all child pneumonia deaths caused by air pollution (UNICEF)*.Difference Between COVID and Pneumonia | Difference Between Cold Flu and COVID-19 | MFine Quick Pills
How is pneumonia in children diagnosed?
It entails taking a medical history, doing physical exams, and administering the following tests:
X-ray of the chest
It helps to confirm pneumonia and also assess the extent /severity of the disease. In some cases, it may help in the differentiation of bacterial v/s viral Pneumonia
Blood counts, like Total WBC counts, etc., can be elevated in Infections. Blood Gas Analysis can help measure carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
Sputum microscopy and culture
Examining the sputum under the microscope can sometimes help in identifying the organism. Sputum culture is done on coughed-up sputum from the lungs. It can detect infections in children. However, getting sputum samples from toddlers can be difficult, and therefore this test is only sometimes done.
An oximeter measure helps measure blood oxygen.
Chest CT scan
This test captures chest images. It gives a more detailed picture of the extent of the disease in the lungs. It is needed in cases who do not show a response to initial treatment or have severe disease.
This procedure examines the insides of the lung airways. In Pneumonia, it is helpful to collect sputum samples when the patient is unable to cough it up. However, this test is needed in very few cases.
Pleural fluid culture
In cases difficult to diagnose, this test would be performed where the fluid between the lungs and the chest wall (called the pleural space) is examined.
How is pneumonia in children treated?
Treatment of pneumonia includes antibiotic medications. Most of which will be prescribed orally.
Other treatments include
- Bed rest
- Staying hydrated, and
- Medications for fever, cough, and other discomforts.
If the child is experiencing severe breathing problems, they may have to be admitted to the hospital. While in the hospital, treatments may include
- Antibiotics administered intravenously or by mouth
- Intravenous fluids, and
- Oxygen therapy
What are the potential consequences of childhood pneumonia?
If neglected, pneumonia can cause breathing difficulties. But if bacteria enter the bloodstream, they can cause sepsis, and it can be potentially fatal.
How can children be protected against pneumonia?
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be avoided by getting vaccinated against 13 different types of pneumococcal pneumonia.
Doctors recommend that toddlers receive their first vaccinations at the age of two months. For children over the age of two who are at higher risk of pneumonia, there's a different vaccine available. Your doctor should be able to help you with that. Just make sure your child is up to date on all vaccines, particularly the yearly flu shot.
A clean environment may also help your child prevent pneumonia. Teach them to cover their nose and mouth when they sneeze or cough. Teach them to wash their hands frequently as well. These precautions will help prevent other infections as well.
Also, prevent exposure to cigarette smoke.
When should I consult a doctor?
Call your doctor if you notice these symptoms:
- A fever that lasts more than a couple of days
- Breathing difficulties
- Trouble drinking water and other fluids
- New symptoms such as altered feeding pattern or excessive sleepiness/ drowsiness
Pneumonia treatment at home — read more about what you can do to help your child at home.
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