Complications of pneumonia
- Common complications include
- Low levels of oxygen in the bloodstream
- Life-threatening hypotension
- Pulmonary abscess or empyema
Severe lung injury (acute respiratory distress syndrome [ARDS])A severe form of pneumonia can prevent oxygen from entering the bloodstream, causing shortness of breath. Low oxygen levels can be life-threatening.
The microorganism responsible for pneumonia can enter the bloodstream, or the body’s response to the infection can be excessive, producing a potentially lethal lowering of blood pressure, a condition called sepsis.
Some pneumonia can lead to lung abscess or empyema. An abscess is a pocket of pus inside the tissues. A lung abscess forms when a small area of the lung dies and a collection of pus forms in its place. An empyema is a collection of pus in the space between the lung and the chest wall.
Strong infection or excessive inflammation in response to infection can cause severe lung injury, which can manifest as acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). ARDS causes dyspnea, usually with rapid and shallow breathing. People with ARDS usually require respiratory assistance with a mechanical ventilator for an extended period of time.
- Medical evaluation
- Usually a chest X-ray, but sometimes a chest computed tomography (CT) scan
- Sometimes tests to identify the organism responsible for pneumonia
Doctors assess the possible presence of pneumonia by listening to the chest with a stethoscope. Pneumonia generally produces a characteristic noise, caused by the narrowing or occlusion of the airways, or by the presence of fluid and inflammatory cells within lung regions normally occupied by air, a phenomenon called consolidation.
Generally, the diagnosis of pneumonia is confirmed by a chest X-ray, but a chest CT scan is sometimes done. In mild cases, the doctor may decide to initiate treatment based on the symptoms and results of the visit.
In subjects in conditions that require hospitalization, doctors often perform an examination of sputum, blood and urine samples in order to identify the organism responsible for the pneumonia.
In people who are very ill or have a known immune system problem, or when looking for certain unusual organisms, doctors sometimes take sputum samples by administering a steam treatment that induces a deep cough
(and sputum production) or by inserting a bronchoscope (a flexible probe with a camera) in the airways. Sputum samples obtained by inducing cough, in particular with a bronchoscope, are associated with a lower probability of containing saliva and more likely than the sputum sample to allow the identification of the organism responsible for pneumonia.
The identification of the organism responsible for pneumonia is particularly important when the patient is seriously ill, immunocompromised or does not show an effective response to treatment. However, despite these tests, it is difficult to identify the specific organism in almost all people with pneumonia.
Deep breathing exercises and therapy to eliminate mucus and secretions from the lungs help prevent pneumonia in high-risk individuals, such as those who are debilitated or have recently undergone surgery on the chest or abdomen.
Vaccines can help prevent pneumonia. Sometimes, when an unvaccinated person comes into contact with a person known to have a virus that can cause pneumonia (such as the flu virus), the doctor prescribes antiviral drugs to try to prevent infection and pneumonia.