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In the United States, 1.5 million people were diagnosed with pneumonia in an emergency department during 2018. Since the start of 2020, there have been around 350,000 deaths involving COVID-19 and pneumonia in the United States.

Pneumonia is an infection of one or both of the lungs caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi. Most pneumonia occurs when a breakdown in your body’s natural defenses allows germs to invade and multiply within your lungs. It is a serious infection in which the air sacs fill with pus and other liquid and cause labored breathing.

A classic sign of bacterial pneumonia is a cough that produces thick, blood-tinged, or yellowish-greenish sputum with pus but there are over 30 different causes of pneumonia. Some of the most common causes are:

  • Viral pneumonia. This type is caused by various viruses, but in adults, it is caused more commonly by the flu, and in children, the more common cause is RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus) is responsible for about one-third of all pneumonia cases.
  • Bacterial pneumonia is caused by various bacteria. The most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae. Bacterial pneumonia tends to be more serious than other types of pneumonia, with symptoms that require medical care. The symptoms of bacterial pneumonia can develop gradually or suddenly. Fever may rise as high as a dangerous 105 degrees F, with profuse sweating and rapidly increased breathing and pulse rate. Lips and nailbeds may have a bluish color due to a lack of oxygen in the blood and your mental state may be confused or delirious.
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia. This type has somewhat different symptoms and physical signs and is referred to as atypical pneumonia. It is caused by the bacterium Mycoplasma pneumoniae. It generally causes mild, widespread pneumonia that affects all age groups but usually infects people younger than 40 years old, especially those living and working in crowded conditions. This type may be mild enough to go undetected and is sometimes referred to as walking pneumonia.


Pneumonia can range in seriousness from mild to life-threatening. It is most serious for infants and young children, people older than age 65, and people with health problems or weakened immune systems.

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia can vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of germ causing the infection, your age, and overall health. Early symptoms are similar to flu symptoms, but they last longer. Other common symptoms are:

  • Chest pain when you breathe or cough
  • Cough that produces green, yellow, or bloody mucus
  • Fever
  • Heavy sweating
  • Confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older)
  • Fatigue
  • Fever, sweating, and shaking chills
  • Lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems)
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Rapid breathing
  • Sharp or stabbing chest pain that’s worse with deep breathing or coughing

Don’t delay making an appointment with your Med First healthcare provider if you are having difficulty breathing, chest pain, persistent fever of 102 F or higher, or persistent productive cough. Our Providers may order the following tests to diagnose or confirm the diagnosis of Pneumonia.

  • Chest X-Rays: This imaging test takes pictures of internal tissues, bones, and organs, including the lungs.
  • Blood tests.  Arterial blood gas testing checks the amount of oxygen in your bloodstream. A blood culture test is used to see whether an infection is present and see if it has spread to the bloodstream.
  • Sputum culture. This test is done on the phlegm that is coughed up to see if there’s an infection in the lungs.
  • Pulse Oximeter: An oximeter is a small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood from a finger.
  • CT Scan: This imaging procedure uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce sharp, detailed horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.

How do you Prevent Pneumonia?

Some self-care tips for helping to prevent catching the viruses, bacteria, or fungi that cause pneumonia are to wash your hands regularly, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and don’t smoke because that damages your lungs, and weakens their natural defenses. It is also good practice to keep your immune system healthy and strong by eating a healthy diet, sleeping enough, and exercising regularly. For children younger than 5 and adults older than 65, there is also a vaccine for pneumonia available.

Treating pneumonia

Treatment depends on the type of pneumonia you have. Most of the time, pneumonia is treated at home, but severe cases may mean you will be treated in the hospital. For bacterial pneumonia, antibiotics may be prescribed, but for viral pneumonia, antibiotics are not prescribed and there is no specific treatment. Cases of viral pneumonia usually get better by the person eating well, increasing fluid intake, getting rest, oxygen therapy, using pain medicine (OTC), and if needed for a bothersome or severe cough, a cough-relief medicine.

If you are feeling unwell, and think you may have pneumonia, Med First is here to help! Our healthcare teams at all of our locations are skilled in diagnosing and treating cases of pneumonia with compassion and care. Whether you are an established patient or have never been to a Med First location, make an appointment at your nearest location, or simply walk in to get the care you need.