Pneumonia: Recovery & Complications

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that comes in many forms. Recovery depends on an individual's overall health and the severity of their case. We'll learn about recovery and possible complications in this lesson.

What is Pneumonia?

Anne had a bad case of pneumonia last year and spent 3 days recovering in the hospital before her doctor would release her to go home. She had a fever of 104 degrees Fahrenheit, a terrible cough, and had a lot of trouble catching her breath, even at rest. While in the hospital, she was treated with medication and was given oxygen to help maintain her blood levels. Once she was finally feeling a little bit better and was told she could go home, her first question was ''how long until I feel better?''

Before we learn about recovery scenarios, we need to know what pneumonia is. In short, pneumonia is an infection in the lungs that can be caused by bacteria, a virus, or even fungi. It spreads easily, through sneezing, coughing, and even breathing, and often follows up with the flu (fun fact: a flu shot is one way to prevent pneumonia).

Symptoms vary based on the case and cause, but coughing, fever, shaking, chills, and difficulty breathing are all common symptoms experienced.

Pneumonia symptoms can be diverse and vary with personal health and the type of pneumonia.
symptoms of pneumonia

Treating pneumonia depends on the type of pneumonia and a person's health history. For example, Anne had a bacterial infection and was treated with antibiotics, but this wouldn't work for viral pneumonia. Viral infections may respond to antiviral medication instead. Usually, there are different combinations of medication that, when combined with rest, oxygen therapy, hydration, and a proper diet, successfully treat pneumonia.

Recovering from Pneumonia

Most healthy adults will bounce back after treatment and feel normal after 1-2 weeks; however, not all people have such a breezy recovery. Older people may take many weeks to feel like they have their strength back, and people with existing health conditions (or very severe cases of pneumonia) may take months before they feel they're back to normal.

Recovery varies, but the elderly (older than 65), young children (under 2), those with compromised immune systems, and those with other serious conditions like diabetes or cirrhosis will take the longest to recover and face the highest risk of developing complications during treatment and recovery.

Possible Complications

That being said, what are the possible complications from pneumonia? Unfortunately, there are quite a few. First of all, a person could have an adverse reaction to antibiotics, which can cause nausea, diarrhea, itching, rash, redness, swelling, or hives. These are all pretty serious and require follow-up treatment, especially if they indicate an allergic reaction.

Other complications can be even more severe and include:

  • Pleural effusion: fluid accumulates in between tissue layers in the space around the lungs, causing swelling, and making it difficult to breathe
  • Bacteremia: bacteria gets into the bloodstream from the lungs, requiring further treatment to prevent infection from reaching other major organs
  • Sepsis: uncontrolled inflammation found all over the body
  • Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS): a severe form of respiratory failure
  • Respiratory failure: the lungs fail to adequately exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide to sustain the body's functions
  • Lung abscesses: pockets of pus form in or around the lungs and require a course of antibiotics

As you can see, there is no ''typical'' recovery for pneumonia. A patient's medical history, current state of health, and treatment success all factor in.

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