Pneumonia is a viral, bacterial, or fungal lung infection characterized by inflammation of the air sacs—the air sacs in the lungs may get filled with pus and other liquids (1). It is mostly caused by an infection in the child’s nose or throat and gradually travels to the lungs.
Children are at a higher risk of developing pneumonia than adults because of their small airways and immature immune systems. However, pneumonia is a curable condition if timely intervention is made.
Read this post to know more about the different types, causes, symptoms, risks, diagnosis, and management of pneumonia in children.
Causes And Types Of Pneumonia
Pneumonia is caused by bacteria, viruses, or fungi and spreads via direct contact with a person already infected or a contaminated surface (2). The following are the main subtypes of pneumonia in children (3).
1. Bacterial pneumonia
Streptococcus pneumonia is the most common bacterium that causes bacterial pneumonia. Other bacteria that may cause bacterial pneumonia include
- Group B streptococcus
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Group A streptococcus
2. Viral pneumonia
The following viruses may cause viral pneumonia.
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Parainfluenza virus
- Influenza virus
3. Mycoplasma pneumonia
Also called “walking pneumonia,” this type of pneumonia presents different mild symptoms and physical signs than other forms of pneumonia. Although it affects people of all age groups, it is more commonly seen in older children.
Besides these, pneumonia can also be caused by fungi and the inhaling of food, liquid, gases, or dust.
Signs And Symptoms Of Pneumonia
- Cough with mucus
- Fast breathing
- Grunting or wheezing sound while breathing
- Flaring nostrils or retraction of muscles under the ribs while breathing
- Chest pain
- Abdominal pain
- Decreased activity
- Loss of appetite
- Discoloration of the lips or nails
Risk Factors And Complications Of Pneumonia In Children
The following factors can put a child at a higher risk of developing pneumonia (4).
- Weak immune system due to HIV or cancer
- Conditions such as asthma or cystic fibrosis
- Chronic illnesses such as heart or lung disorders
- Problems with the airways
- Exposure to second-hand smoke
- Severe problems with breathing
- Bacteria entering the blood
- Collection of pus between the lungs and the inner surface of the chest wall (empyema)
- Pleural effusion
- Lung abscess
- Necrotizing pneumonia
Diagnosis Of Pneumonia
Your child’s doctor will review their medical history and do a physical examination to diagnose pneumonia. The following tests and investigations help in confirming the diagnosis of pneumonia in children (2).
- Chest X-ray
It helps create images of the internal tissues, bones, and organs and shows inflammation in the lungs.
- Blood tests
Blood tests monitor blood cell counts to look for signs of infection and the concentration of gases such as oxygen and carbon dioxide in the circulating blood.
- Sputum culture
The mucus or spit coughed up into the mouth from the lungs is examined to look for signs of infection. However, it may be challenging to get a sputum sample from children.
- Pulse oximetry
A pulse oximeter is a small sensor taped on the finger or a toe to measure oxygen concentration in the circulating blood.
- Chest CT scan
CT scan of the chest is done to check the internal structures of the chest from all angles.
It helps check the inside of the airways. However, it is rarely done in children.
- Pleural fluid culture
This test is done on the fluid collected from the pleural space (the space between the lungs and the chest wall) to look for signs of infection.
Treatment Of Pneumonia In Children
- Taking ample rest
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Using cool mist humidifiers
- Administering acetaminophen for fever and discomfort
- Taking cough medications
For children with breathing problems and severe symptoms, the following treatments might be suggested in a hospital setting.
- Oral or IV antibiotics for bacterial infection
- IV fluids if the child is unable to keep the fluids down
- Oxygen therapy
- Suctioning the child’s nose and mouth to get rid of thick mucus
- Nebulizers or inhalers for wheezing
- Breathing treatment according to the pediatrician’s recommendations
Pneumonia due to flu may be treated with antiviral medications. Do not administer OTC drugs without consulting a doctor, and ensure the child takes the full prescribed antibiotic course and at the specific dosage suggested by the doctor.
Prevention Of Pneumonia In Children
Some types of pneumonia can be prevented through vaccines. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, all infants should be given routine vaccines against Streptococcus pneumonia and Haemophilus influenza as they are the most common bacteria responsible for pneumonia in children (6).
Pneumonia can also occur after episodes of flu and whooping cough. Therefore, children should be given vaccinations for pertussis and receive their yearly flu shots (1).
Good hygiene practices such as covering the nose and the mouth while coughing and sneezing and frequent hand washing can help prevent pneumonia and other infections (2).
Recovery In Children With Pneumonia
For children with bacterial pneumonia, the symptoms improve within one or two days after starting appropriate treatment. Children with viral pneumonia might recover a little slower. The child’s cough might last for weeks, even after the fever subsides. If the child does well on other parameters, cough is usually not a cause for concern (7).
When Should You Call The Doctor?
Contact your child’s healthcare provider if you notice any of these symptoms.
- Fever lasting for more than a few days
- Problems with breathing
- Any new symptoms such as stiffness of the neck or swelling of the joints
- Inability to drink or retain fluids
Frequently Asked Questions
- Is pneumonia contagious?
Bacterial and viral pneumonia are contagious. However, not each person exposed to the germs develops pneumonia. In contrast, pneumonia caused by fungi is not contagious (7).
- Can I look after my child with pneumonia at home?
Children with mild symptoms may be treated at home. However, whether or not the child needs hospitalization will be determined by your healthcare provider. If the healthcare provider allows home care, make sure you follow all instructions and treatment protocols (8).
- How long does pneumonia last?
Some children take ten days to recover from pneumonia, while as many as half take longer than this. Most children recover within three to four weeks from pneumonia (9).
- Can a child get pneumonia twice?
Yes, children can get pneumonia twice. Two or more episodes of pneumonia in a year, separated by a month of asymptomatic period or clear chest X-rays, is known as recurrent pneumonia. Recurrent pneumonia is a serious illness and can be dangerous for children (9).
If your child has pneumonia, ensure they are not exposed to first-hand or second-hand smoke. Avoid giving cough medicines to children with pneumonia as they do not help. If you suspect your child has pneumonia, do not hesitate to talk to the healthcare provider. Timely medical intervention can help prevent serious complications in children with pneumonia.
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- Chiemelie Ebeledike and Thaer Ahma. (2021). Pediatric Pneumonia; National Center for Biotechnology Information.
- Pneumonia in children.
- Recurrent Pneumonia in Children.