Pneumonia In Teens: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment & Prevention

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Pneumonia is a lung infection leading to inflammation of the lungs’ alveoli (air sacs). A variety of organisms could cause pneumonia in teens. In addition, the inflamed air sacs may cause breathing difficulties (due to insufficient oxygen levels) in your teen.

This condition commonly occurs in children below four. However, teenagers who are predisposed to risk factors such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and chronic diseases have higher chances of developing pneumonia (1).

Ensuring adequate nutrition and sleep, avoiding smoke exposure, and getting scheduled immunization are some strategies that could help prevent pneumonia. However, it is crucial to seek medical care if your teen has the signs of pneumonia.

Keep reading to discover the possible causes, risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, complications, treatment, and preventive measures for pneumonia in teens.

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
  • Adenovirus
  • Pneumocystis jirovecii
  • Aspergillus
  • Chickenpox virus (varicella)
  • Coronaviruses

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
  • 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
  • Cough
  • Coughing up phlegm or mucus
  • Chest pain
  • High fever
  • Chills
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Headache

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).

  • Hydration
  • Adequate rest for a faster recovery
  • Cool-mist humidifier to make breathing easier
  • 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.

Pneumonia in teens is a microbial infection transmittable from an infected individual to a healthy one. It is treatable with home care measures and medications and preventable with vaccination. Further, having your teen follow basic personal hygiene rules could help reduce their risk of getting infected. If your teen has not been vaccinated, speak to a doctor about vaccinating them. Also, annual flu vaccination is now recommended for all individuals above 6 months before the flu season, which occurs at around the end of October in the Northern hemisphere and the end of April in the Southern.

Key Pointers

  • Some noticeable symptoms of pneumonia in teens are cough, chest pain, and high fever, which may be caused by Coronaviruses, Aspergillus, Chickenpox, and Influenza virus, among other reasons.
  • Some ways to diagnose it are chest x-ray, blood tests, or pulse oximetry.
  • It can be treated by hydration, rest, a humidifier for easy breathing, and cough syrups.
  • Pneumonia in teens might lead to complications such as sepsis, respiratory failure, and lung abscesses.
  • To prevent pneumonia, it’s advisable to get vaccinated, follow a healthy diet, and avoid smoking.

References:

MomJunction's articles are written after analyzing the research works of expert authors and institutions. Our references consist of resources established by authorities in their respective fields. You can learn more about the authenticity of the information we present in our editorial policy.
1. Community-Acquired Pneumonia in Infants and Children; American Academy of Family Physicians
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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Dr. Pooja Parikh

(MBBS, DCH, DNB)
Dr. Pooja Parikh is a pediatrician whose medical journey has taken her from Rajkot (PDUMC) to Vadodara (SSGH) to Mumbai (Hinduja & Breachcandy Hospital). Currently she is actively involved in critical, intensive and general care of 0 to 18-year-olds in the port town of Gandhidham, where she was born and brought up. She believes that a doctor should be involved... more

Dr Bisny T. Joseph

Dr. Bisny T. Joseph is a Georgian Board-certified physician. She has completed her professional graduate degree as a medical doctor from Tbilisi State Medical University, Georgia. She has 3+ years of experience in various sectors of medical affairs as a physician, medical reviewer, medical writer, health coach, and Q&A expert. Her interest in digital medical education and patient education made... more