Pneumonia: causes, signs, therapy - NetDoktor - Diseases - 2021

Lung infection


Pneumonia (pneumonia) is particularly common in the cold season, not infrequently as a result of delayed influenza infections. The most important symptoms are a general malaise, cough, fever and shortness of breath. In elderly, chronically ill or immunocompromised persons, pneumonia can be life-threatening. Read all about the symptoms, risk of infection and treatment of pneumonia here!

ICD codes for this disease: ICD codes are internationally valid medical diagnosis codes. They are found e.g. in medical reports or on incapacity certificates. J15J14J16J18J12P23J13ArtikelübersichtLungenentzündung

  • Pneumonia: symptoms
  • Pneumonia: treatment
  • What is pneumonia?
  • Pneumonia: causes and risk factors
  • Pneumonia in children
  • Pneumonia: examinations and diagnosis
  • Pneumonia: disease course and prognosis

Pneumonia: short overview

  • Typical symptoms: severe malaise, fever, chills, dry or productive cough
  • Causes: Infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, inhalation of toxic fumes, smoke, aspiration of stomach contents or blood
  • Particularly at risk: Children, the elderly, people with heart or lung disease, immunodeficiency, diabetes, alcohol abuse
  • Likelihood of confusion: (chronic) bronchitis, tumors, foreign bodies in the bronchi, lung / pleurisy
  • Important investigations: Listening (auscultation) and tapping (percussion) of the lungs, X-ray, CT, ultrasound
  • Treatment: Consistent protection, antibiotics (in bacteria) or fungicides, treatment of the symptoms (pain and fever), cough suppressants, secretolytic drugs
  • Hazards: Oxygen deficiency (life-threatening), carryover with chronic course, spreading of the exciters into other organs (meningitis, heart inflammation etc.), blood poisoning (sepsis)
  • Rare form: Pneumocystis carinii (fungal infection in severely weakened immune system)
To the table of contents

Pneumonia: symptoms

A sudden onset of illness is typical of pneumonia. Signs such as general malaise and weakness are among the first symptoms.

Here are other symptoms of pneumonia:

  • fever
  • Cough with sputum (productive cough) or dry cough
  • chills
  • Shortness of breath (in severe pneumonia)

In pneumonia, the gas exchange in the lungs is disturbed. This leads to an oxygen deficiency (hypoxemia) and an increase of carbon dioxide (hypercapnia). To compensate for this, people with severe pneumonia often breathe very quickly and flatter (tachypnea).

The breathing effort causes the nostrils to inflate with every breath - a clear indication of shortness of breath and thus of pneumonia. If the lack of oxygen can not be compensated by this, the lips and fingertips turn bluish. Doctors speak of cyanosis.

The cough is initially dry in the early stages of pneumonia. This means that no expectoration (mucus) can be coughed off. As a rule, however, after a short time a productive cough occurs, in which greenish-yellowish mucus is coughed off.

Any coughing can cause the victim chest pain, which often radiates to the lower abdomen. Existence of other lung diseases such as asthma or bronchitis, so they often worsen by the pneumonia in addition.

  • "Go to the doctor with a yellow expectoration"

    Three questions

    Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth,
  • 1

    How can I tell if I have bronchitis or pneumonia?

    Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth

    As a patient not at all. This requires an x-ray, which shows that the lungs are inflamed. But it is not bad, because both the bronchitis and the pneumonia are treated by the doctor with antibiotics. It is important that you go to one when you get fever and yellow sputum - which can be the case with both pneumonia and bronchitis.

  • 2

    Do I have to go to the hospital with pneumonia?

    Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth

    That depends on it: If you are older than 65 years, have difficulty breathing, a blood pressure, the repeatedly sagged or basically just confused, then it is already recommended. The advantage in the hospital is that the antibiotics are administered intravenously and act faster.

  • 3

    How long do I have to spare myself with pneumonia?

    Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth

    As a rule, the lungs need six weeks to regenerate. However, they can strain their body in time, for example, to take a bit shorter during sports. And: After pneumonia, your body is weakened and prone to other germs. Therefore pay more attention to hand hygiene and do not even visit mass events.

  • Prof. Dr. med. Felix Herth,

    Medical director and chief physician of the Thoraxklinik Heidelberg, chief physician of the Department of Internal Medicine - Pulmonology.

Atypical pneumonia: symptoms less clear

Atypical pneumonia can be triggered by certain bacteria as well as by fungi, viruses or parasites. The cough stays dry all the time. Significantly mild symptoms, which often last for weeks, are further signs of atypical pneumonia. There is a lack of symptoms typical of typical pneumonia, which is why atypical pneumonia is often overlooked and therefore not properly cured.

Pneumonia: Symptoms of viruses or parasites

If viruses or parasites are responsible for pneumonia, symptoms may be different from bacterial pneumonia. Symptoms often include fever and chills. Only after a few days a dry cough occurs.

Other signs: Pneumonia with viral or parasitic cause is often accompanied by difficult mucus from expectoration and a cough that persists for a long time.

Pneumonia: symptoms in the elderly

In older people, pneumonia is often much more severe than in younger and sometimes life-threatening. Symptoms of pneumonia in the elderly include cough (often with brownish sputum) and dyspnoea.

The brownish color of the sputum is caused by the addition of blood, for example from tears of the smallest blood vessels in the pharynx. However, addition of blood in the sputum are also possible symptoms of a Legionella pneumonia.

The respiratory distress, which often accompanies pneumonia in the elderly, is due to the diminished power reserve of the lungs in old age. Sometimes the sufferers have to be temporarily ventilated even in hospital.

In the case of a serious illness, older people in particular, due to a lack of oxygen and a rise in carbon dioxide, can also become in a kind of twilight state in which they become confused about their environment or appear completely apathetic. Then the treatment in the hospital is necessary.

Pneumonia: symptoms in children

Children and adults often develop different signs of pneumonia. Symptoms that only affect children are bloated abdomen and headache and body aches. With these complaints, parents do not immediately think of pneumonia! Recognize pneumonia in children is often more likely to change behavior, especially if the little ones can not speak yet.

The first signs of pneumonia in children can therefore be:

  • high fever
  • bloated stomach
  • erected nostrils inhaling
  • fast breathing (tachypnoea)
  • aversion to drinking
  • Reduced appetite
  • especially high heart rate

Also in children, severe cough, accompanied by mucus depending on the cause of the pneumonia or dry, and a general malaise are among the classic signs of pneumonia. As with adults, coughing is often accompanied by greenish or yellowish expectoration in children. When coughing, chest pain can occur, sometimes radiating into the right lower abdomen.

Pneumonia: symptoms of weakened defense

People with compromised immune systems are particularly susceptible to pneumonia. Symptoms can be more pronounced here and last longer. They additionally weaken the body, so that in patients with weakened immune systems, the treatment of pneumonia in the hospital should be done.

A weakened immune defense occurs, for example, in the context of an immunosuppressive therapy. This is a treatment that restricts or completely suppresses the function of the immune system (for example, after organ transplantation). But even in diseases such as AIDS or diabetes (diabetes mellitus), the immune system can be significantly weakened.