Bacterial pneumonia

Medical quality assurance by Dr. Albrecht Nonnenmacher, MD at November 2, 2016
StartDiseasesBacterial pneumonia

Bacterial pneumonia is a serious sickness where the body's lungs are infected and can fill with fluid, restricting proper airflow and gas exchange in the blood. Proper treatment by a medical professional when symptoms appear is crucial to a full recovery.


Definition & Facts

Bacterial pneumonia is when the lungs become infected with reproducing bacteria. The body will try to fight off the harmful bacteria and inflammation will occur in the lungs. This can cause fluid to develop in the lungs and in turn, require them to work harder to put oxygen into the blood while removing carbon dioxide. Because of this inefficient exchange in the blood, pneumonia can be a very serious illness and cause complications ranging from blood poisoning to respiratory failure.

Symptoms & Complaints

There are two classes of pneumonias, typical and atypical. With the typical bacterial pneumonia cases, the illness develops rather quickly and is associated with the following symptoms:

The second class, atypical pneumonia, will appear with gradual symptoms and is caused by less common bacteria than those which cause typical pneumonia. It is common for an initial illness to occur in the days to weeks before this type of pneumonia appears. Unlike the typical pneumonia, fevers may be lower, chills may be absent, coughing will produce little discharge or be very dry, and chest pain could be nonexistent.

A few of the other symptoms commonly seen with atypical pneumonia include headache, body aches and joint aches, confusion, clammy skin, abdominal pain, and an overall feeling of being tired or weak. People with atypical pneumonia may also see a wide range of less common symptoms such as diarrhea, ear pain, and rash. Those suffering from atypical pneumonia may wait longer to seek medical help since many of the symptoms are like that of the common cold


Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria or a virus, but bacterial pneumonia refers to pneumonia caused by bacterial infection. Pneumonia is easily spread by an individual breathing in contaminated air from someone who is already infected. But it can also be caused by air filters and tubing that have been improperly cleaned, such as those from an air conditioner or from some medical equipment.

Legionella pneumophilaMycoplasma pneumoniae, and Chlamydophila pneumoniae cause atypical pneumonia. Streptococcus pneumoniae is the most common type of bacteria that causes typical bacterial pneumonia (pneumococcal pneumonia).

A person's likelihood of catching bacterial pneumonia depends on a few different factors: the specific bacteria and the amount inhaled as well as the body's actual ability to fight off the foreign bodies. Those suffering from chronic heath problems, a weakened immune system, damaged lungs, smokers and are either very young or very old in age are more likely to contracted bacterial pneumonia.

Diagnosis & Tests

Bacterial pneumonia is a very serious illness and if any of the symptoms arise, medical help should be sought out. A doctor will likely begin by listening to the body's lungs. Specific noises heard in the stethoscope can point to the infection.

A test that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood stream, called a pulse oximetry, may be performed. This is done by clipping a lighted probe to the finger. It is possible that a blood workup and culture may be needed. This will help the doctor determine how well the body is fighting off the infection as well as making sure that some of the bacteria have not found their way into the bloodstream.

Once bacterial pneumonia is positively diagnosed, a few other tests could be performed, such as X-rays to show the location of the infection in the lung and a sampling of the coughing discharge (sputum culture) to determine which bacteria is causing the illness.

Treatment & Therapy

The severity, age and medical conditions of the patient as well as current medications will determine which course of treatment will be prescribed. For generally mild cases, the doctor will order an increase of fluids to stay hydrated and anti-fever medications to help the patient feel better. A cough suppressant is not typically recommended because coughing helps the body clear the infection from the lungs. In these cases, a few follow-up appointments and X-rays may be necessary to adjust medications and ensure a full recovery.

For those suffering from severe cases of bacterial pneumonia, a hospital stay may be essential. With these severe cases, the patient has trouble breathing and will need the extra oxygen a hospital can provide as well as powerful antibiotics administered through the veins. Levofloxacin is an antibiotic that is used to treat pneumonia caused by streptococcal bacteria. If this process does not help the body fight the infection, a breathing tube may be the only option. In this case, the patient will more than likely have an extended stay in the intensive care unit of the hospital. 

Prevention & Prophylaxis

There are vaccines available to prevent bacterial pneumonia caused by streptococcus pneumoniae: pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine and pneumococcal conjugate vaccine. It is recommended that healthy adults older than 65 should obtain both of the vaccinations.

People who are younger than 65 suffering from chronic lung illnesses, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a few other conditions are also urged to receive these vaccinations.