Pneumonia in children: causes, symptoms, treatments and prevention

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Marie-Ange Demory
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In this article we will find out:



  • what is pneumonia;
  • the causes of pneumonia;
  • inhalation pneumonia or aspiration pneumonia;
  • how severe the pneumonia is;
  • symptoms in children;
  • how the diagnosis is made;
  • how to cure;
  • the signs to watch out for;
  • prevention strategies.

Pneumonia in children, what is it


Pneumonia is a 'inflammation of the pulmonary alveoli which may affect one or both lungs. Pneumonia can affect anyone, but it is typically more common among infants and preschool children, the elderly, and people with chronic illnesses.



For many forms of pneumonia are dependent on viral or bacterial infections transmitted from person to person, these forms are more frequent during autumn, winter and early spring, when children spend more time indoors and in close contact with others. As the Healthy Children website, edited by the Association of American Pediatricians recalls, a child's risk of suffering from pneumonia nIt does not depend on how he is dressed or the ambient temperature.

Read also: Get them out! Because in the nursery or nursery, children should be out every day, even in winter

What are the causes?


In the vast majority of cases the inflammatory process is provoked by an infection, which can be of viral, bacterial, but also fungal origin.



Viral pneumonia, more common in children under three years of age, is typically caused by respiratory syncytial virus (which is also a common cause of bronchiolitis), but can also be caused by adenoviruses and influenza viruses. Among the bacteria responsible for pneumonia, however, the most common is Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus), but Mycoplasma and Chlamydia pneumoniae, Haemophilus influenzae and Staphylococcus aureus may also be involved.

Often, what happens is that a bacterial infection is added, in the lungs, to a viral infection perhaps of the upper airways but which already has weakened the immune system.

Read also: 10 tips to strengthen the immune defenses of children

Inhalation pneumonia or ab ingestis

Another form of pneumonia can be caused not directly by infectious agents but primarily by "aspiration", that is, by inhalation of foreign bodies, solid or liquid, such as vomit or bits of food (this can happen with dried fruit). The technical term is a shower of polmonite.



In such cases the infection is there, but it is secondary to the inhalation of the foreign body: after its arrival in the lungs, the surrounding tissue reacts with the production of an excess of mucus which becomes fertile ground for the growth of microorganisms: hence the subsequent pneumonia.

The risk of suffering from aspiration pneumonia increases in particular conditions, that is:

  • in case of neurological disorders that cause swallowing problems;
  • in the presence of chronic diseases of the stomach or esophagus;
  • during general anesthesia (this is the reason why you are asked not to drink and eat in the previous hours).
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Is it a serious illness?


In general in the world yes, pediatric pneumonia is still a serious disease, responsible according to Unicef ​​for about three million deaths a year. In industrialized and high-income countries it is a disease that is now largely treatable, but which can still cause significant inconvenience, starting with hospitalization (when necessary).

Also according to Unicef, in 2022 over 800 thousand children under the age of 5 died in the world from pneumonia: one every 39 seconds.

Read also: Coronavirus, 12 things to know

Pneumonia in children, symptoms


The disease usually manifests itself with fever, cough, breathing changes (more frequent, more difficult or wheezing), chest pain. They may also be present nonspecific symptoms such as drowsiness, loss of appetite, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain, irritability.

Read also: Pulmonary hearths, what they are and how they are treated

The symptoms are also the same in the case of a shower of polmonite: fever, cough, difficulty breathing, wheezing or noisy, lips or skin turning blue. With coughs there may also be the release of a yellow-green or foul-smelling mucus or streaked with blood.

How is the diagnosis made


As the website of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital recalls, “the diagnosis is mainly based on history and clinical examination".

Instrumental tests such as i chest rays o CT scans should not be performed routinely, but reserved "for doubtful cases, or in which complications are suspected, or in cases that do not respond to prescribed therapy".

How to cure


If pneumonia is of viral origin, therapy simply consists of rest, a good nutrition with all nutrients and plenty of fluids to thin the mucus and compensate for the losses due to sweating produced by the fever. If the origin is bacterial, antibiotics are used.

However, it is often very difficult (even for the doctor) to distinguish viral pneumonia from one of bacterial type, for which the pediatrician usually prescribes one immediately antibiotic therapy, usually oral, to be followed all the time and with the dosages indicated by the doctor.

For greater safety, antibiotic treatment is always indicated in infants and children of a few months.

In the most severe or complicated forms, in addition to antibiotics, supportive therapies such as oxygen therapy, fluid therapy, physiotherapy.

In the case of aspiration pneumonia, in addition to treatment with antibiotics, the removal of the foreign body with a bronchoscopy (a rather delicate intervention, both because the airways of children are really tiny, and because there is the risk of crushing the foreign body, with possible risks associated with this event).

Read also: Guide to cough in children: the various types of cough, the causes, natural remedies, drugs

The signs to watch out for


Also from the site of the Bambino Gesù Hospital, the signs parents need to pay attention to, asking for the doctor's opinion immediately, are:

  • persistence of high fever beyond 72 hours from the start of antibiotic therapy;
  • appearance of breathing difficulties;
  • presence of indentations (sinking of the rib cage and jugulus);
  • extreme fatigue of the child or increased sleepiness.
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Is it possible to prevent pneumonia?


It is possible to prevent the forms caused by pneumococcus through a special vaccination, while the hexavalent vaccination, protecting against Hamophilus influenzae, also protects against pneumonia caused by this bacterium. Also, people at high risk of pneumonia should consider getting the flu shot.

According to Unicef, again in 2022, 71 million children did not receive the three recommended doses of PCV (pneumococcal conjugate vaccine), putting them at an increased risk of getting the disease.

Other measures to reduce the risk of infection simply have to do with good hygiene practices. For instance:

  • wash your hands often;
  • cover your mouth with your forearm when sneezing or coughing.

People with abnormal swallowing can reduce the risk of inhalation pneumonia with some steps to improve ie who eat and drink and how they do it.

Also Read: 15 Vaccine Preventable Diseases

Other sources for this article: Website of the Bambino Gesù Pediatric Hospital; Healthy Children site edited by the American Association of Pediatricians; Medscape.com site; information material from the English Health Service; in-depth study on aspiration pneumonia from the information service for specialists Up to Date.

Updated on 31.01.2022

TAG:
  • pneumonia
  • infections
  • disease
  • 3-5 children years
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