Pneumonia is an infection that causes inflammation of the air sacs (alveoli) of the lungs. Inflamed air sacs could lead to breathing problems due to limited oxygen delivery. Although it is common in children younger than four years, teens with chronic diseases, smoking habits, or alcoholism are also at a higher risk of developing pneumonia (1).
Simple measures such as adequate nutrition, sleep, immunization, and avoiding exposure to cigarette smoke can prevent pneumonia. Seek medical care if your teen has symptoms of pneumonia since untreated pneumonia may lead to life-threatening complications.
Read this post to know more about the causes, risk factors, signs, symptoms, complications, diagnosis, and treatment of pneumonia in teenagers and ways to prevent it.
Causes Of Pneumonia In Teenagers
Bacteria, fungi, and viruses are common causes of pneumonia. Microbes can spread through respiratory droplets while coughing and sneezing or direct contact with an infected person.
The common microorganisms that cause pneumonia are the following (2).
- Mycoplasma pneumonia
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Haemophilus influenzae type b
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Chlamydia pneumoniae
- Group B streptococcus
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)
- Parainfluenza virus
- Influenza virus
- Pneumocystis jirovecii
- Chickenpox virus (varicella)
Immunocompromised teens are more likely to get fungal pneumonia, such as aspergillosis and pneumocystis pneumonia. Mycoplasma pneumoniae and Chlamydia pneumoniae are common causative agents in adolescents (1).
Risk Factors For Pneumonia In Teenagers
The following factors may increase the risk for pneumonia in teens (3).
- Weak immune system due to cancer, HIV infection, malnutrition, or other conditions
- Chronic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, asthma, or sickle cell anaemia
- Lung or airway issues
- Parental smoking
- Crowded living conditions
- Indoor air pollution
- Long term hospitalization may cause nosocomial (hospital-acquired) pneumonia
Although several factors may increase the risk of pneumonia, nutritional deficiencies and weaker immune system result in a higher risk of pneumonia in children and teens.
Signs And Symptoms Of Pneumonia In Teens
Depending on the causative agent, the signs and symptoms of pneumonia may vary in each teen. Trouble in breathing is a significant symptom since the air sacs are filled with fluid and pus instead of air.
The onset of the following symptoms and signs may be seen in teens during pneumonia (4).
- Breathing problems
- Coughing up phlegm or mucus
- High fever
- Lack of appetite
Viral and bacterial pneumonia can have similar clinical features in the early period. Bacterial pneumonia may have an earlier onset of breathing issues than viral pneumonia. Viral pneumonia could be mild or often resolve with home treatments, but some viruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 that causes COVID-19, may cause severe pneumonia (5) (6).
It is best to seek medical care if your teen has pneumonia symptoms, such as high fever, chest pain, and breathing difficulties, since these also occur in other respiratory conditions. Early diagnosis of the underlying cause may help avoid complications.
Diagnosis Of Pneumonia In Teens
Diagnosis can be made by history and physical examination. Additional tests are ordered to identify the causative agent. The tests to confirm pneumonia are the following (2).
- A chest X-ray helps to visualize the lung tissue.
- Blood tests help measure arterial blood gas, blood count, and inflammatory markers.
- Sputum smear is helpful in diagnosing pulmonary tuberculosis, which many times, presents with features of pneumonia
- Pulse oximetry measures the amount of oxygen in blood using a sensor on the finger or toe. Oximetry measurements indicate the lung’s ability to absorb oxygen.
- Bronchoscopy helps visualize the airways from inside.
- Chest CT scans visualize the lungs and the organs nearby.
- Pleural fluid culture may also help identify the organisms causing pneumonia since the fluid contains bacteria from the lungs.
The tests may vary for each person, depending on their health, symptoms, and certain specific test results.
Treatment For Pneumonia In Teens
The treatment for pneumonia is decided depending on the cause, severity, and complications of the disease and your teen’s health status. Some teens with uncomplicated pneumonia may receive prescription medications and be allowed to continue treatment at home. Severe pneumonia requires hospitalization with intravenous medications, fluids, and often ventilatory assistance.
The following treatments can provide symptomatic relief during pneumonia (2).
- Adequate rest for a faster recovery
- Cool-mist humidifier to make breathing easier
- Cough syrups or cough medications
- Acetaminophen for fever
Most teens with viral pneumonia may get better with symptomatic care. Antivirals are rarely prescribed and usually prescribed in severe cases or to immunocompromised individuals.
Bacterial pneumonia and other severe types of pneumonia may require the following treatments (1).
- Oral or intravenous (IV) antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia
- Oxygen therapy
- Fluid replacement (IV fluids)
- Breathing therapies
It is essential to complete the full course of antibiotics to prevent relapse and antibiotic resistance. The time taken for recovery may vary depending on the severity of the illness and complications.
It may take up to a month in some teens for complete healing, whereas some may return to normal activities within a week. Although respiratory symptoms and fever resolve, some may experience tiredness and fatigue for a month during the recovery phase (7).
Complications Of Pneumonia In Teens
Teens with low immunity and chronic illnesses are more vulnerable to pneumonia-related complications, such as (7):
- Sepsis (blood infection)
- Multi-organ failure due to sepsis
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Respiratory failure requiring ventilatory or breathing support
- Pleural effusion (fluid build-up in the pleural space around the lungs)
- Lung abscesses (pus-filled cavities in the lungs) that require surgical draining
Prevention Of Pneumonia In Teens
The following measures may help prevent pneumonia (8).
- Vaccination can help prevent or lower the risk for pneumonia caused by a few bacteria and viruses, such as haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), varicella (chickenpox), influenza (flu), streptococcus pneumoniae, bordetella pertussis (whooping cough), and measles (9).
- Wash hands with alcohol-based sanitizer or soap and water.
- A healthy diet, physical activity, and adequate sleep help improve immunity.
- Maintain good hygiene and proper ventilation in crowded homes.
- Avoid smoking, exposure to secondhand smoke, and exposure to air pollutants.
- Dosage of preventive medicines can reduce the risk of pneumonia in immunocompromised teens.
If your teen was not vaccinated in childhood, you may ask the doctor for the vaccination plans. Adequate personal hygiene and personal care, along with vaccination, can help keep the respiratory system healthy and reduce the risk of pneumonia in teens.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended now for all individuals beyond the age of 6 months. It should be taken before the start of flu season every year with the latest available strain. October end in northern and April end in southern hemisphere are considered to be good times to get vaccinated.
2. Pneumonia in Children; Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital; Stanford Children’s Health
3. Pneumonia; World Health Organization
4. Pneumonia In Children; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
5. Naming the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and the virus that causes it; World Health Organization
6. COVID-19 Current Situation; Oklahoma State Department of Health
7. Pneumonia Treatment and Recovery; American Lung Association
8. Pneumonia; Nationwide Children’s Hospital
9. Pneumonia Can Be Prevented—Vaccines Can Help; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
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