What Is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is a life-threatening illness caused by a virus or bacterium that creates an infection in the lungs. The air sacs in the lungs fill with pus and other liquid, which makes breathing difficult. Both forms of pneumonia, viral and bacterial, strike quickly and can be dangerous if left untreated. In many cases, pneumonia can present itself as a common cold or bad cough, but bacterial infections can develop without earlier cold symptoms.
Symptoms and Signs of Pneumonia
If your baby exhibits any of the symptoms of pneumonia below, he needs immediate medical attention. Blue lips or a blue face indicates that your baby is not getting enough oxygen, and immediate hospitalization is essential.
- High Fever - typically over 102°F and accompanied by chills and muscle pain
- Fatigue - sleepiness, weakness, and lack of energy
- Labored Breathing - Breathing patterns may be rapid but shallow, from the stomach instead of the chest, and with excessive nose flaring or wheezing
- Coughing - productive or "wet"; mucus (which can be rusty or green colored) may be coughed up from the lungs. In severe cases, mucus might be tinged with blood.
- Blue Coloring - blue-hued or tinted skin (in infants, this is especially visible around the lips and face)
- Pain - chest or abdominal pain, depending on which part of the lung or lungs are infected
- Stomach Troubles - nausea, vomiting, and even diarrhea
How to Prevent Pneumonia
There are no guaranteed ways to avoid pneumonia, but there are a few preventive measures you can take to minimize your baby's risk. All parents and caregivers should routinely wash their hands; pacifiers, bottles, and toys should be routinely washed to remove bacteria and viruses. Babies can be given the pneumococcal vaccine, now approved for babies under age 2.
Treatment for Pneumonia
Pneumonia cannot be treated at home; you must see a doctor is immediately. It is important to trust your instincts and ask for help. A productive, wet cough is actually a useful part of the healing process, but do not use cough suppressants and expectorants without first consulting a doctor. For bacterial pneumonia, the doctor may prescribe antibiotics; a huge improvement usually follows the second dose. Antibiotics cannot be used to treat viral pneumonia.
Consult your doctor to make sure these guidelines are recommended for your child's recovery at home:
- After sitting with your baby for 10 minutes in a steam-filled bathroom, use your cupped hand to pound the baby's back and chest firmly for a few minutes. This treatment may cause your baby to cough, a sign that the treatment is working. Doctors recommend this treatment for both bacterial and viral pneumonia.
- Use a cool mist humidifier or vaporizer during the night.
- Give acetaminophen (Children's Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Children's Advil) to help lower fever and alleviate pain.
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