Pneumonia is an infection of the air sacs in lungs caused most commonly by bacteria or a virus breathed in from the air. The infection causes inflammation of the lung tissue which becomes swollen and stiff so it is difficult to breathe. The infection, the associated fever and the hard work of breathing can be very debilitating.

Although pneumonia can occur in healthy individuals, it is often generally seen in people who have been weakened by other existing physical ailments such as bronchitis, cystic fibrosis or an operation. Any bronchial ailment producing thick mucus can block the lungs and encourage infection. Smoking and alcohol impede the functions of the lungs so they also contribute to the onset of pneumonia.

If you canít cough properly, mucus builds up in the lungs and may predispose to pneumonia. If the protective reflexes which normally prevent food from entering the lungs are damaged e.g. after a stroke, the resulting irritation can lead to pneumonia.

Major symptoms of pneumonia include persistent cough, high fever, chest pain, breathlessness and the production of mucus which may contain pus or even blood.

Pneumonia can only be diagnosed with a chest x-ray, blood test, a bronchoscopy or biopsy. These tests can only be performed by a doctor.

Treatment varies according to severity. Pneumonia is usually treated with antibiotics, bed rest and increased fluid intake. Physiotherapy may be used to assist with coughing which forces the infected matter out of the lungs. Most people who are healthy to begin with when they get pneumonia recover from it. However, pneumonia can be life threatening and often requires treatment in hospital.

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