The Subtle, yet Serious, Symptoms of Pneumonia

This infection can be life-threatening if not treated ASAP.

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Pneumonia is a common infection that causes the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs to fill with fluid or pus. The symptoms and severity of pneumonia can vary, depending on the germ that caused it—bacteria, a virus, or fungi—as well as your age and your overall health.

With the proper treatment, most healthy people recover from pneumonia within a few weeks, but it can be life-threatening for some. Pneumonia tends to be more serious for children and infants, adults over 65, people with weakened immune systems (such as those with HIV/AIDS or who are undergoing chemotherapy), and people with certain chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Tens of thousands of people in the U.S. die from pneumonia every year, most of them adults over the age of 65, according to the American Lung Association. That’s why it’s critical to be aware of the symptoms of pneumonia, so you can get the proper treatment as soon as possible.

The Symptoms of Pneumonia

Some pneumonia symptoms can be so mild that you barely notice them, and others can be so severe they send you to the hospital. Here are some common pneumonia signs and symptoms to look out for:

  • Cough, which may produce green, yellow, or bloody mucus

  • Fever

  • Sweating

  • Chills

  • Shortness of breath

  • Rapid, shallow breathing

  • Chest pain, which may feel sharp and get worse when you breathe or cough

  • Loss of appetite

  • Low energy and fatigue

  • Nausea and vomiting, especially in small children

  • Confusion, especially in older people

  • Bluish lips or nail beds due to lack of oxygen in the blood

Symptoms can also present differently depending on the type of pneumonia you have.

Bacterial pneumonia tends to be more serious than other forms, and can come on gradually or suddenly. It can cause a dangerous fever (as high as 105 degrees), rapid pulse rate, bluish lips or nail beds, and confusion.

Viral pneumonia tends to develop over a few days. Early symptoms are similar to the flu: fever, a dry cough, headache, muscle pain, and weakness. Then, over the following couple of days symptoms tend to get worse, and may include more signs, such as shortness of breath and blueness in the lips.

It’s also important to note that symptoms can differ depending on the person. Infants and children, for instance, may not show any signs of infection, or they may have a fever, be fatigued, or appear restless. Older adults and adults with certain conditions may show fewer or milder symptoms, and may be more likely to have changes in mental awareness.

Decoding Pneumonia Symptoms: When to Call a Doctor

If you even have a slight suspicion that you or someone you know has pneumonia, don’t wait to see if the condition gets worse. Call a doctor as soon as possible—especially if you or a loved one is at high-risk for severe pneumonia.

Most cases can be treated successfully, but the sooner you get treatment, the better.