Signs of pneumonia in children to watch out for
Remember that a persistent cough that lasts for more than a few days should not be ignored. It might just be pneumonia, which is one of the deadliest diseases in the world.
Pneumonia is the leading cause of death in the Philippines for infants and young children. Fortunately, the disease is preventable and treatable.
Hence, it is crucial for parents to be aware of the simple ways it can be prevented and what signs of pneumonia are to avoid any complications it can bring.
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs, specifically in one or both air sacs. The sacs may become filled with pus which causes the following signs of pneumonia: fever, labored breathing and chills.
Signs of Pneumonia
- Difficulty breathing
- Low fever of 38.5 C or lower
- General feeling of discomfort
- Flu- or cold-like symptoms such as sore throat, chills, headache
- Coughing that is dry and frequent
- Rapid breathing with wheezing sounds
- Stomach pain
- Chest pain
- Shaking and chills
- Mucus tinged with blood or has a green or rust color
- Poor feeding (in infants) and decreased appetite (in older kids)
Signs of pneumonia vary depending on what part of the lungs are infected. A middle or top infection may cause labored breathing; an infection on the lower part may cause vomiting, nausea or an upset stomach.
Continue reading to know about what causes pneumonia and how it is transmitted
Any of the following can cause pneumonia: bacteria, a fungus, viruses or parasites.
For bacteria, the organisms that are responsible for pneumonia are: streptococcus and mycoplasma (mild form of pneumonia referred to as "walking pneumonia").
For viruses, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) are the culprits.
For those with compromised immune systems, pneumonia can be caused by organisms such as pneumocystis jiroveci. This is responsible for frequent pneumonia bouts in those who have HIV. Hence, a doctor may recommend an HIV test.
A child may develop pneumonia by:
- Breathing pneumonia-infected air or certain bacteria*
- Having a viral upper respiratory infection such as the cold or flu*
- Experiencing complications with other diseases such as chicken pox or measles
- Breathing gastric juices from the stomach and large amounts of food into the lungs; or vomiting into the lungs. This usually occurs in a seizure or stroke
*Note: The nose, even one of a healthy person's, usually houses pneumonia-causing viruses or bacteria. When these spread to the lungs, pneumonia can develop. This occurs more during or after episodes of a cold or chronic diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
Pneumonia can either be community-associated pneumonia (spread at school or work, for example) or healthcare-associated pneumonia (spread through hospitals). Treatment options for both vary; for this article, we focus on treatments for community-associated pneumonia since kids will most likely get the disease from school instead of a healthcare facility.
Continue reading to know about what risk factors and complications of pneumonia and when you should call the doctor
- Weakened immune system. Those with HIV or AIDS who are receiving chemotherapy, long-term steroids and those who have recently undergone an organ transplant
- Chronic illnesses such heart disease, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Age. Pneumonia can be more severe for infants, young children and those 65 year and above. These groups are the ones with compromised immune systems or existing health issues
- Hospitalization. Those who are in the intensive care unit, especially if on a ventilator
- Difficulty breathing. Severe cases of pneumonia may lead to not breathing enough oxygen. In which case, hospitalization is required where the child may be given a ventilator
- Lung abscess is when pus is present in the lung cavity. This is removed either through antibiotics; or draining or surgery using a long tube or needle
- Having bacteremia, which is when bacteria is present in the bloodstream. Bacteria in the blood can spread to the lungs, and in some cases causes organ failure
- Pleural effusion is when fluid accumulates around the lungs. This must be drained immediately to avoid further infection
When to Call the Doctor
One of the signs of pneumonia to monitor is fever. Log the child's temperature every morning and evening. If the fever goes above 38.9 C (for infants six months and older, and children) or 38 C (young infants) then call a doctor.
Continue reading to know about how pneumonia is tested, diagnosed and treated
Tests and Diagnosis
Pneumonia can be diagnosed through a physical examination performed by a doctor, who will listen to a child's breathing and a crackling sound (one of the definite signs of pneumonia).
Other tests to confirm pneumonia are chest X-ray; blood tests; sputum test (when a sample of lung fluid, or sputum, is analyzed); and pulse oximetry (to measure the oxygen level in the blood).
Additional tests that are usually done on older patients or those who have serious health conditions are: chest CT scan and pleural fluid culture (this helps determine the type of infection).
Treatments and Drugs
Antibiotics taken on schedule, as prescribed by the doctor, can kill the bacteria.
Other medicines prescribed to help ease the symptoms and signs of pneumonia are:
- Cough medicine to help loosen lung fluids
- Anti-pyretics or fever-reducing medicines such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen. Avoid giving aspirin to kids since it may cause Reye's syndrome
A child may require hospitalization if:
- He is younger than 2 months
- Has difficulty breathing
- Appears dehydrated
- He seems excessively sleepy
- He has low blood oxygen level
- Has a low temperature than what is normal
Continue reading to know about how pneumonia is treated at home and how it can be prevented
When the signs of pneumonia are not that severe--such in the case of walking pneumonia--some kids may feel well enough to want to go to school. However, it is highly recommended for a sick child to same home and rest.
Here are things that can be done at home:
- Offer a child plenty of fluids, including soups such as nilaga or molo, to purge the body of toxins
- Use a warm compress on the chest area if a child experiences chest pains
- Ensure that the child sticks to the prescribed medication to ensure that the bacteria is completely eradicated.
Once on antibiotics a child with pneumonia has a smaller chance of passing on the bacteria to anyone else at home. Nevertheless, be sure that everyone at home:
- Washes hands frequently and correctly (following the 20 second rule)
- Must avoid using the same cups, plates or utensils with the sick child
- Must have up to date immunizations to prevent other infections
- Boost a child's immune system by allowing him to get enough sleep, adequate exercise and have a healthy diet