Pneumonia in Children
Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild or serious.
Pneumonia is generally more common in children younger than 5 years old.
Pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria or viruses. Some of these bacteria and
viruses can be spread by direct contact with a person who is already infected with
Common bacteria and viruses that may cause pneumonia are:
- Streptococcus pneumoniae
- Mycoplasma pneumonia. This often
causes a mild form of the illness called walking pneumonia.
- Group B streptococcus
- Staphylococcus aureus
- Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
This is most often seen in children younger than 5 years old.
- Parainfluenza virus
- Influenza virus
Pneumonia may sometimes be caused by fungi.
A child is more likely to get
pneumonia if they have:
- Weak immune system, such as from cancer
- Ongoing (chronic) health problem, such
as asthma or cystic fibrosis
- Problems with the lungs or airways
In addition, children younger than
1 year old are at risk if they are around secondhand tobacco smoke. This is especially
true if their mother smokes.
Symptoms may be a bit different for each child. They may also depend on what is causing
the pneumonia. Cases of bacterial pneumonia tend to happen suddenly with these symptoms:
- Cough that produces mucus
- Chest pain associated with coughing
- Abdominal pain
- Vomiting or diarrhea
- Loss of appetite
- Tiredness (fatigue)
Early symptoms of viral pneumonia
are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia. But with viral pneumonia, the breathing
problems happen slowly. Your child may wheeze, and the cough may get worse. Viral
pneumonia may make a child more at risk for bacterial pneumonia.
In addition to the symptoms listed above, your child may have:
- Fast or hard breathing
The symptoms of pneumonia may look
like other health problems. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider for
Your child’s healthcare provider
can often diagnose pneumonia with a full health history and physical exam. They may
include these tests to confirm the diagnosis:
Chest X-ray. This test makes images of internal tissues,
bones, and organs.
Blood tests. A blood count looks for signs of an
infection. An arterial blood gas test looks at the amount of carbon dioxide and
oxygen in the blood.
Sputum culture. This test is done on the mucus (sputum)
that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. It can find out if your child
has an infection. It’s not routinely done because it is hard to get sputum samples
Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a small machine that
measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To get this measurement, the provider
tapes a small sensor onto a finger or toe. When the machine is on, a small red light
can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless, and the red light does not get
Chest CT scan. This test takes images of the structures in
the chest. This is done only in cases of complicated pneumonia or if your child is
not responding to routine treatments.
Bronchoscopy. This procedure is used to look inside the
airways of the lungs. It is very rarely done.
Pleural fluid culture. This test takes a sample of fluid
from the space between the lungs and chest wall (pleural space). Fluid may collect
that area because of the pneumonia. This is called a pleural effusion. This fluid
be infected with the same bacteria as the lung. Or the fluid may just be caused by
the inflammation in the lung.
Treatment may include antibiotics for bacterial pneumonia. No good treatment is available
for most viral pneumonias. They often get better on their own. Flu-related pneumonia
may be treated with an antiviral medicine.
Other treatments can ease symptoms. They may include:
- Plenty of rest
- Getting more fluids
- Cool mist humidifier in your child’s room
- Acetaminophen for fever and discomfort
- Medicine for cough or wheezing
Some children may be treated in the hospital if they are having severe breathing problems.
While in the hospital, treatment may include:
- Antibiotics by IV (intravenous) or by mouth (oral) for bacterial infection
- IV fluids if your child is unable to drink well
- Oxygen therapy
- Frequent suctioning of your child’s nose and mouth to help get rid of thick mucus
- Breathing treatments, as ordered by your child’s healthcare provider
Pneumonia can be a life-threating illness. It may have these complications:
- Severe breathing problems
- Bacteria that enters the blood
Pneumococcal pneumonia can be
prevented with a vaccine that protects against 13 types of pneumococcal pneumonia.
Doctors recommend that children get a series of shots beginning at age 2 months. Talk
with your child’s healthcare provider about this vaccine. Another vaccine is available
for children older than 2 years who are at increased risk for pneumonia. Talk with
child's healthcare provider to see if it is recommended for your child. Also make
your child is up-to-date on all vaccines, including the yearly flu shot. Pneumonia
occur after illnesses such as whooping cough and the flu.
You can also help your child
prevent pneumonia with good hygiene. Teach your child to cover their nose and mouth
coughing or sneezing. Your child should also wash their hands often. These measures
help prevent other infections, too.
Your child can be vaccinated against pneumococcal pneumonia. There
are two types of vaccines that can help prevent pneumococcal disease. The vaccine
that is right for your child depends on their age and risk factors. Talk with your
child's healthcare provider about which vaccine is best for your child and when they
should get it.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call your child’s healthcare
provider if your child’s symptoms get worse. Or if they have:
- A fever for more than a few days
- New symptoms, such as neck stiffness
or swollen joints
- Trouble drinking enough fluids to stay
Call 911 right away if your child has any of these symptoms:
- Problems swallowing or they are drooling
- Trouble breathing or needing to lean forward to breathe
- Problems opening mouth fully
- Problems speaking
- Skin looks blue, purple, or gray in color
- Loss of consciousness or problems waking or feeling faint or
- Shortness of breath with a fast heartbeat
- Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild or serious.
- The illness can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and fungi.
- Some common symptoms include fever,
cough, tiredness (fatigue), and chest pain.
- Treatment depends on the cause of the pneumonia.
- Some types of pneumonia can be prevented with a vaccine. Good handwashing and hygiene
can also help.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a
new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new
instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed and how it will help your child.
Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s
provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have
questions or need advice.