Pneumonia is a general term for an infection of the lungs that may be caused by a number of different viruses and bacteria. The types of pneumonia you are likely to see in your baby include:
In young children, respiratory synctial virus (RSV) and influenza virus are the most likely causes. Viral pneumonia typically starts like a cold and slowly, but steadily, gets worse. Your child may have a fever of 101.5° F or more, a worsening cough, and rapid breathing.
With bacterial pneumonia, your child will have a sudden onset of symptoms – fever up to 103° F, rapid breathing and coughing. The child will not want to eat and will seem very ill.
How is pneumonia diagnosed?
Fever and cough are pneumonia’s main features along with a number of other symptoms; however, it is hard to tell, whether your baby has pneumonia. If your child has a cold that seems to get suddenly worse or does not get any better after about two weeks, call your pediatrician.
Since pneumonia is an infection of the lungs, your pediatrician will be listening to your child’s lungs for decreased breathing sounds or other abnormal sounds. Your child will be breathing rapidly in order to take in more oxygen, because some of the air sacs in the lungs are filled with fluid. The doctor might hear some wheezing, too. If your child has a severe case of pneumonia and gets admitted to the hospital, most likely an x-ray and blood tests will be done, in order to determine the cause of pneumonia and appropriate treatment.
How is pneumonia treated?
The treatment depends on the type of infection, the severity of the illness, and the age of the child. Viral pneumonia, like all other viral infections, does not respond to antibiotics, so treatment may be limited to rest and fluids. Some children require nebulizer treatment. Your doctor may also provide your child with supplemental oxygen through a tube or mask to make breathing easier. Dehydration from rapid breathing and fever is often a side effect of pneumonia, which is why taking in fluids is so important. A bacterial pneumonia will be treated with antibiotics, possibly by intravenous (IV) delivery.
How to prevent pneumonia?
There are a number of things that you can do to boost your child’s chances of staying healthy:
Keep up to date on vaccinations
The Hib, the Dtap, and the newly introduced vaccine (not available in Pakistan) help prevent pneumonia. In addition, if your child has a lung disease, such as asthma, talk to your pediatrician about getting the influenza vaccine every year, as a way of cutting down on the chances of catching the flu and having it develop into pneumonia.
Practice good personal hygiene
Wash your hands and your children’s hands frequently to prevent the spread of germs. In addition, do not let your children share cups and utensils and teach them to cover their mouth and nose, when they cough or sneeze, since pneumonia is transmitted through droplets in the air. Furthermore, make it part of your house-cleaning routine to wash regularly all the places germs are likely to hang out, such as the phone, toys, doorknobs, and the refrigerator handle – anywhere germy body parts might touch.
Create a smoke-free environment
Studies have shown that children, who live around cigarette smoke even for short periods, get sick more often and are more susceptible to illnesses such as pneumonia, upper respiratory infections, asthma, and ear infections. Children with asthma are at higher risk of developing pneumonia.
Onset of influenza season
Influenza, known as the ‘flu,’ is a respiratory illness spread through the droplets of coughs and sneezes that cause symptoms, such as fever, headache, extreme fatigue, and muscle aches.
What this means to you: children, who are at risk for complications from flu, include infants, children between 6 and 23 months, and children over two years, who have chronic medical conditions, such as chronic heart or lung disease, asthma, respiratory allergies, sickle cell anemia, diabetes mellitus, HIV, cystic fibrosis, and chronic renal disease. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC recommend that children with these chronic conditions receive yearly flu shots.
How to prevent asthma in your child?
There is nothing you can do for fully preventing your baby from getting asthma, if it is in the baby’s genes. You will not know your child is asthmatic, until the appearance of consistent symptoms, such as wheezing and coughing. However, if you and your spouse have allergies and asthma, then also your baby has a strong likelihood of having asthma. You may be able to delay its onset, until your baby is older (and the lungs are bigger and stronger), by doing the following:
- Limit your baby’s exposure to dust mites by encasing the crib mattress in an impermeable cover, removing carpeting and plush toys from the room, using blinds instead of heavy fabric drapes, and washing the bedding once a week in hot water.
- Keep the child away from passive smoking. Cigarette smoke is not considered an allergen, but it does irritate the lungs.
- Avoid using a fireplace or wood stove. Although the warmth and coziness are inviting, the smoke may irritate your baby’s respiratory system.
- If it is clear that your baby has developed an allergy to a pet, you will need to keep the pet away from the baby as much as possible.
- Limit the child’s exposure to viruses by practicing good hygiene.
- Delay giving your baby the foods that are likely to cause food allergies, such as eggs, nuts, shellfish, and cow’s milk.
Remember – prevention is better than cure!