Symptoms of Pneumonia: Know the Facts

Pneumonia is a respiratory condition that is caused by an infection of one or both lungs. This is an illness that affects more than a million people each year in the United States. Various bacteria, viruses, and fungi may cause pneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia is the most common type of pneumonia in adults and the most common type of bacteria is Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus). Chemical burns or physical injury to the lungs can also produce pneumonia.

For individuals that are otherwise healthy and younger than 65, the symptoms of bacterial pneumonia usually come on suddenly caused by inflammation in the tiny air sacs of the lung, called alveoli, or when the lungs fill with fluid (consolidation). Symptoms often start during or after an upper respiratory infection, such as the flu or a cold.

Anthony Ricci /
Anthony Ricci /

In children and young adults, the primary cause is viral. Viral pneumonia caused by the influenza virus may be severe and sometimes fatal. The virus invades the lungs and multiplies; however, there are almost no physical signs of the lung tissue becoming filled with fluid. Because of this, the symptoms of viral pneumonia may come on slowly and often are not as obvious or as bad.

Most of the time, your nose and airways filter germs out of the air as you breathe. This typically keeps your lungs from becoming infected. However, sometimes germs can find a way to enter the lungs and cause infections. The lungs are great place for bacteria and viruses to grow because they are warm, dark and moist. Once inside the lungs, germs can multiply rather rapidly.

Alexander Raths /
Alexander Raths /

What Are the Symptoms of Pneumonia?

Pneumonia symptoms can range from mild to severe and are dependent on the type of pneumonia you have, your age and your general health. The elderly, infants, and people with other diseases are at a greater risk of becoming very ill and may need to be in the hospital.

The most common symptoms of pneumonia are:

  • Cough – A prolonged cough is often a good indicator to seek medical care.
    • Productive- sputum/mucus coughed up may be yellow, greenish or even bloody.
    • Non-productive- a dry, racking cough which may irritate the throat.
  • Fever – mild or high (as high as 105°F)
  • Shaking and chills
  • Shortness of breath or shallow/rapid breathing
  • Muscle aches and malaise (generally feeling bad)
  • Enlarged lymph nodes, particularly in the neck
  • Chest pain – Sharp/stabbing pain that gets worse when taking a deep breath or when coughing. The chest also may be sore when it is touched or pressed because of coughing.
  • Headache
Adam Gregor /
Adam Gregor /
1 of 4