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lungs; breathing; bacteria; virus; alveoli; oxygen;


What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia (say new-mow-nee-a) is an infection in one or both lungs.

pneumoniaYour lungs fill with air as you breathe in. The oxygen in the air goes into your blood through millions of little sacs in your lungs called alveoli (say al-vee-oh-li). The blood carries this oxygen all round your body.

When you breathe out you are getting rid of another gas called carbon dioxide (say car-bon di-ox-ide). You can find out more about this in our topic "Your lungs"   

If someone has pneumonia, then some of the tubes in the lungs and some of the alveoli fill up with mucus (a sticky fluid), which makes it harder for air to get into the alveoli, so less oxygen gets through into the blood.

"Catching" pneumonia

Pneumonia is an infection caused by germs (bacteria or viruses). These germs can cause other illnesses such as colds and bronchitis, but sometimes (not often) they cause pneumonia.

Young kids less than 5 years old or elderly people are more likely to get pneumonia than older children and adults, but it is still not a common problem.

Getting wet through in the rain may lead to you feeling all cold and shivery or even sneezy but you can only get pneumonia from bacteria or viruses. So, next time someone tells you to "Get out of the rain, you'll catch pneumonia!" you could say, "No I won't" or you could think, "This person cares about me" and say,"Okay."

What it feels like

Someone with pneumonia may:

  • cough a lothave to breathe fast
  • find it hard to breathe 
  • be wheezing
  • cough a lot and bring up yucky stuff (sputum) that can have pus in it so it looks yellow or green
  • have a fever (feeling hot then shivery) and sweat a lot
  • feel very tired
  • have pain in their chest
  • have a headache
  • have pain in the tummy
  • look blue around the mouth
  • not want to eat.

What to do

If you or someone in your family has some of these symptoms they need to see a doctor.

  • see a doctorThe doctor will listen to their breathing using a stethoscope (say steth-a–scope). The doctor will be able to hear sounds that are being made in the lungs such as wheezing sounds or crackling sounds or find areas in the lungs where air is not getting in.     
  • The person may be sent for an x-ray to find out if there is a pneumonia infection.
  • The doctor may give you some medicine or, if you are really struggling to breathe you may go to a hospital where you can take the medicine through a special tube in your arm or hand. This is called an intravenous (in-tra-vee-nuss) line. It doesn't hurt to get medicine this way.
  • If you have pneumonia caused by viruses, antibiotics don't help, but they may help if your pneumonia is caused by bacteria.
  • You may also be given extra oxygen to breathe through a plastic tube that has little tubes that go into your nose. This will help to get oxygen around your body.
  • You may be given medicine to make the fever go away and maybe cough medicine to help you get rid of the mucus in your lungs.
  • Drinking lots of water and getting lots of rest will help your body to fight the infection and you will get better quickly whether you need to be in hospital or can stay at home.
    get some rest
  • A physiotherapist (say fizzy-oh-ther-a-pist) may be able to help you cough up the mucus better, by doing special exercises with you.

Help yourself stay healthy

Here are some ways you can help your body to avoid germs.

  • Be careful about washing your hands properly with soap and water.
  • If you have asthma or other problems with lungs then you can get a special flu shot which will help your body fight off infection.
    getting a special flu vaccination
  • Get plenty of sleep because tired bodies can't fight germs so well as bodies which get enough rest.
  • throw used tissues awayEat healthy food so that your body gets all the vitamins and minerals it needs to keep you healthy.
  • Make sure you get all your 'shots' on time.
  • Stay away from anyone who has pneumonia as their coughing will send out their germs into the air!
  • Cover your mouth with your hand, preferably with a tissue in it, if you have a cough.
  • Throw used tissues away down the loo or put them into a bin.

If you have a cold it is not fair to go to school and spread it around to your friends. Stay home and rest.

Dr Kim says  

Dr KimPneumonia does not happen often in children but it can make old people quite ill. If you have a cold or bronchitis, stay away from older people such as your great-grandparents.

You may not be sick enough to go to a hospital if you do have pneumonia. This doesn't mean that you can go to school, run around or go to parties! You should still stay home, get plenty of rest, drink lots of water and take your medicine.

Give your body all the help you can to make you better again.

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We've provided this information to help you to understand important things about staying healthy and happy. However, if you feel sick or unhappy, it is important to tell your mum or dad, a teacher or another grown-up.


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