Pneumonia in Children

Updated on 1 December 2022

Pneumonia is a common lung infection that makes it difficult for patients to breathe easily. This infection is caused by viruses, fungi or bacteria that cause the air sacs in the lung to fill with phlegm or mucous. It could be a deadly disease if not treated on time and with the right treatment. Here is what you should know when Pneumonia develops in children.

What is Pneumonia in Children?

Children are considered to be the most common victims of Pneumonia. Pneumonia infection can be mild or serious. Serious Pneumonia among children, especially those below five years of age, is a serious cause of concern. As per WHO statistics, Pneumonia is considered the single largest infectious cause of death in children globally. In 2019 alone, Pneumonia accounted for 14% of all child deaths under five years old. 

What causes Pneumonia in a Child?

Bacteria or Viruses generally cause Pneumonia. This type of infection spreads fast and can quickly spread from one person to another. In some cases, Pneumonia can also be caused by certain types of fungi. The most common pathogens that cause Pneumonia are:

  • Adenovirus
  • Group B Streptococcus
  • Influenza Virus
  • Mycoplasma Pneumonia
  • Parainfluenza Virus
  • Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV). 
  • Staphylococcus Aureus
  • Streptococcus Pneumoniae
  • Fungi like Pneumocystis, Cryptococcus, or Aspergillus.

Which Children are at Risk for Pneumonia?

Although all children are usually the most common victims of Pneumonia, following we have mentioned the risk factors of pneumonia that only heighten the chances of them catching the infection:

  • A compromised infection due to ongoing medical conditions like cancer, HIV, etc.
  • Health problems asthma or cystic fibrosis
  • Existing lung issues
  • Acquiring secondhand smoke, especially in infants younger than one year.

What are the common symptoms of Pneumonia in a Child?

Common symptoms of Pneumonia in children are:

  • Chills
  • Pain while coughing
  • Chest pain 
  • Cough that produces mucus
  • Fast or hard breathing
  • Fever
  • Fussiness
  • Headache
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea

If you experience any of the above symptoms, consult your doctor before the infection worsens.

How is Pneumonia Diagnosed in a Child?

Doctors would usually check children with a persistent cough and cold for Pneumonia. The most common way to diagnose Pneumonia in children is by checking the child's appearance, breathing pattern, and vital signs. For further confirmation, a chest X-ray might be ordered along with blood tests. Additional ways that are useful in diagnosing Pneumonia in children are:

  • Bronchoscopy
  • Chest CT scan
  • Pleural fluid culture
  • Pulse oximetry
  • Sputum culture.

How is Pneumonia Treated in a Child?

Bacterial Pneumonia is often treated with a course of antibiotics. Most viral Pneumonia is supposed to heal on its own as there is no treatment available for them. In such a case, treatment is directed at relieving the symptoms rather than fighting the virus. In the case of fungal Pneumonia, treatment includes antifungal drugs, or in severe cases, surgical debridement might need to be done. If the infection is serious, the child may be admitted to the hospital. The treatment in the hospital would include the following.

Intravenous and/or oral Antibiotics: 

  • Breathing treatments
  • IV fluids
  • Oxygen therapy
  • Suction to remove the mucous

Other Tested Methods:

Other ways that can help in relieving the symptoms at home and the hospital include:

  • Taking Cough & Fever medication
  • Humidifiers 
  • Intake of plenty of fluids
  • Getting plenty of rest.

What are the Possible Medical Complications of Pneumonia in a Child?

The most severe complication of Pneumonia is that it affects breathing adversely. This can be life-threatening. Another complication associated with Pneumonia is that the bacterial infection may enter the bloodstream.

When should I call my Child's Healthcare Provider?  

Pneumonia is a serious illness. Observe your child all the time and contact your healthcare provider immediately if the following symptoms persist or new symptoms as mentioned below appear:

  • Persistent fever
  • Breathing issues like difficulty in breathing, wheezing or grunting in sleep etc.
  • Neck stiffness
  • Swollen joints
  • Trouble eating or drinking
  • Overly lethargic

It is important to be aware and wary when it comes to your or your loved ones' health (especially children). Pneumonia is indeed a serious disease. However if your child contracts it, do not stress. Take the necessary precautions and follow the doctor’s instructions. Most children will recover in 2-4 weeks with proper treatment. 





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