Symptoms of pneumonia in children

The main symptoms of pneumonia are coughing and breathing difficulties. The cough can be dry, but it will often produce thick mucus. The mucus could be yellow, green, or brown, and in some cases there may be some blood in it. You may also notice changes to your child's breathing, which could be faster or shallower than normal. Children may also complain of breathlessness or chest pain. Other common symptoms of pneumonia include a fever, sweating, shivering, and loss of appetite. Some children may also experience headaches, aches and pain, vomiting, or wheezing.

Sometimes the symptoms appear suddenly, but they can also emerge slowly over several days. Pneumonia also tends to appear after another infection, so it can be difficult to tell where one infection ends and the other begins. You may simple think that a cold or the flu has gone on a little longer than usual, or that a cough has been added to the other symptoms. The symptoms of pneumonia can last for up to six weeks, and your child may still be feeling the effects on their energy levels for several months after the cough has gone away.

 

Complications

Pneumonia can cause serious complications, particularly in vulnerable groups such as the very young and those with other health problems such as asthma. Potential complications of pneumonia include blood poisoning, pleurisy and lung abscesses. Pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics.

Blood poisoning also known as septicaemia, occurs s when bacteria get into the blood stream and release toxins. The body’s immune response to the infection is so strong that it can cause damage to the lining of blood vessels causing then to leak, which may lead to organ failure and may be fatal. Pleurisy occurs when inflammation spreads to the thin membranes between the lungs and the ribcage. This can cause serious breathing difficulties, which can lead to respiratory failure if left untreated. Antibiotics, anti-inflammatory drugs, or drainage of infected fluid may be required. Lung abscesses are a rare complication of pneumonia that usually only happen when there is another underlying health condition. Abscesses are pockets of pus that may require antibiotic treatment or drainage.

If your child develops any of these conditions, they will usually need to be admitted to hospital as the effects can be very serious and may even be life-threatening if the proper treatment is not received promptly.

Causes of pneumonia in children

Pneumonia is most often caused by a bacterial infection. The most common cause of pneumonia is infection by the Streptococcus Pneumoniae bacteria. However, other bacteria and viruses can also cause pneumonia too. Pneumonia often occurs as a secondary infection, which means that it takes hold while your body is still fighting off or recovering from another infection, such as the flu or bronchitis. It is more common in young children, babies, and people with underlying health problems such as asthma or weakened immune systems, but it can affect anyone. When you have pneumonia, the air sacs in your lungs become swollen, fluid filled and inflamed. This is what causes the symptoms such as coughing and chest pain.

When to See a Doctor

You should see a doctor if you think your child has a chest infection that could be pneumonia, particularly if they are under five or the symptoms are severe. You should seek urgent care if your child is having serious breathing difficulties, starts coughing up blood or has other severe symptoms such as very fast breathing, bad chest pain, or they have become confused and disorientated.

Diagnosis & Treatment of pneumonia in children

Pneumonia is usually diagnosed based on your child's symptoms and a physical examination, but additional tests may be needed, such as lab tests to determine if the infection is bacterial or viral.

Most cases of pneumonia can be treated at home. You should make sure that your child is resting and drinking plenty of fluids. Infant painkillers may help to relieve some of the symptoms, but don't use over the counter cough medicines for children under six or without the advice of your doctor for older children. Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if the infection has been identified as bacterial, but antibiotic treatment won't be able to help if the cause of the pneumonia is a virus.

If the symptoms are very severe or your child develops any serious complications, additional treatment may be required in hospital. Your child may need an IV for fluids and antibiotics, extra oxygen to help their breathing, or additional treatments to tackle problems like pleurisy or septicaemia.

Young children and other at risk groups can be protected against some forms of pneumonia by the pneumococcal vaccine. The vaccine is usually given alongside the seasonal flu vaccine.

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