It is a common belief that pneumonia is caused by cold weather and many people are warned against especially sleeping on a bare floor. In some cold countries, there is even a weather they called ‘pneumonia weather’, during which time the weather suddenly becomes warmer in the cold season. It is in this weather those people consider themselves more vulnerable to developing pneumonia.
Though, a study concluded that cold weather may increase hospital visitation for pneumonia and that warm weather may be protective but the fact of the matter is that pneumonia is actually caused by pathogens.
According to the WHO’s 2019 statistics, pneumonia is responsible for 14% of all deaths of children under five years old, killing 740 180 of them in 2019 making it the largest single infectious killer of children globally.
Pneumonia is one of the acute respiratory infections that affect the lungs. When a pathogen (any organism causing disease) is inhaled, it gets lodged in the air sacs of one or both lungs where they inflame and make the air sacs to be filled with fluid or pus resulting in cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills and difficulty in breathing.
Generally, the cause of pneumonia can be broadly classified in two:
Where it was acquired – from varieties of places which are summarised into:
Community-acquired pneumonia – this is the pneumonia gotten outside a hospital.
Healthcare-associated pneumonia – this is the pneumonia acquired within healthcare facilities.
Aspiration pneumonia – This is from inhaling things like food, saliva, or vomit into the lungs.
What type of pathogen is causing it – A variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi, can cause pneumonia.
In most adults, the signs and symptoms are just mild and at worse moderate but in some few others like in the elderly above 65 years and those with certain health problems and weakened immune system they may also have severe symptoms just like as seen in children two years and below.
Some common signs and symptoms of pneumonia are: chest pain on breathing in and breathing out, confusion or changes in mental awareness (in adults age 65 and older), cough, which may be productive of phlegm, fever, sweating and shaking chills, fatigue, lower than normal body temperature (in adults older than age 65 and people with weak immune systems), nausea and vomiting or diarrhea, and difficulty in breathing.
Viral and bacterial pneumonia have almost the same presentation, though, viral pneumonia may have more symptoms and wheezing is more associated with viral pneumonia in children. Pneumonia is diagnosed in children less than five years old when they present with cough alone or with difficulty in breathing, not necessarily with fever but with fast breathing or a lower chest wall in-drawing (this is when the chest, instead of expanding during inhalation rather retracts or moves in).
Pneumonia can be mild in presentation characterised by fever, cough, and shortness of breath and sometimes severe characterised by sepsis and respiratory distress. Symptom severity is directly related to the intensity of the local and systemic immune response in each patient.
In the elderly, especially those above 65 years as well as in people with health problems or weakened immune system, pneumonia may present with subtler symptoms yet may end up with a severe consequence, just as seen in children two years and less.
The pathogens are spread from someone with pneumonia to an otherwise healthy person through many ways, which includes:
Inhaling the infection – When a pneumonia patient coughs or sneezes and another person inhales the infected particles. This is more likely when people are in close contact with each other.
Through the mouth or eyes – When a surface that an infected person has coughed or sneezed on is touched by another person or when a person with an infection coughs into their hand and then shakes hands with another person, the second person can become infected if they touch their mouth or eyes without washing their hands.
Frequent handwashing is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of viruses and bacteria. It is essential to wash hands before eating, after using the bathroom, after touching someone else, before visiting people vulnerable to pneumonia, and upon returning home after going out in public.