What is an inflammation of the lungs (pneumonia)?


In the case of pneumonia, an infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites causes a disturbance to the gas exchange function in the alveoli. Normally, pneumonia goes away within two to three weeks. However, it also can lead to complications that can prolong the progression of the disease. Even today, pneumonia is very common. About one third of those affected have to be treated in the hospital.

Symptoms of pneumonia

Pneumonia may have a typical or atypical progression.

Typical symptoms of pneumonia include high fever, chills and difficulty breathing. Those affected feel tired and defeated. The heart rate and respiratory rate increase. Coughing is one of the typical symptoms of bacterial pneumonia.

In the case of pneumonia caused by a virus, the disease’s progression may feature atypical symptoms and low fever.

Causes of pneumonia

Pneumonia usually originates from an infection of the alveoli and/or lung tissue, which may in turn be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites.

Pneumonia usually can be traced back to contagion by droplet infection. Frequently, pneumococcal is the cause of the infection. Influenza viruses and other viruses also can lead to pneumonia. In that respect, pneumonia may be contagious. Whether transmission of the pathogens actually results in contagion depends on the state of health of the other person.

Other factors that can cause pneumonia are irritants such as gas and dust or radiation during cancer therapy.

The emergence of pneumonia is encouraged when the body’s defence mechanism is weakened. Risk groups include infants, older people as well as individuals with certain underlying conditions or those taking immunosuppressant medications.

Diagnosis of pneumonia

The symptoms of pneumonia are similar to those of a cold. If pneumonia is suspected, you should consult a doctor quickly because pneumonia should be treated as early as possible.

After taking the medical history, the doctor listens to the chest and taps the lungs. In the case of an unclear picture, other diagnostic methods also may be used, for example an x-ray of the lung showing any tissue densifications or a blood test to detect inflammation and the growth of pathogens.

Pneumonia therapy

In the case of bacterial pneumonia, the most important measure is the administration of antibiotics.

In the case of viral pneumonia, antibiotics only should be prescribed if there is an additional bacterial infection.

Other measures

In the case of pneumonia caused by fungi or parasites, it may be possible to administer drugs which are particularly effective against these pathogens.

In any case, recovery should be supported by rest, confinement to bed and sufficient fluid intake.

The symptoms also may be alleviated with saline inhalations, which make it easier to cough up the secretion.


Pneumonia can be prevented by strengthening the immune system through a healthy lifestyle and plenty of exercise.

Smoking is one of the biggest risk factors to health and should be avoided.

High-risk groups, such as the elderly or people with chronic heart and lung diseases, can be vaccinated against viral influenza and pneumococcal.