Bilateral Pneumonia – Why It Happens And How It Is Treated?
Bilateral Pneumonia or as it is more commonly referred to “double pneumonia” refers to an infection that occurs in both of the lungs.
It can be a complex illness involving more than just the lungs themselves including the bronchi as well as the stem of the lungs as well.
Regardless of the type of infection, pneumonia is typically noted for the fluid that builds up and makes it harder and harder to breathe.
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Bilateral Pneumonia?
In addition to being caused by infection either by a virus, bacteria or a fungus, pneumonia can be caused by aspiration.
This means that something has been aspirated or breathed into the lungs usually during eating, drinking or coughing.
People who are at higher risk of dysphagia are also at a much higher risk of developing pneumonia.
According to an article in the New York Times, dysphagia becomes more common after age 50 with as many as 1 in 17 people developing some level of this condition.(1)
There are a number of risk factors involved including previous health condition, chronic disease, any condition that affects the musculature of the head and neck and even certain medications.
Other risk factors for bilateral pneumonia: (2)
- Age. Most commonly affects people younger than 2 and older than 65 as related to the immune system
- Environment: exposure to certain chemicals, fumes and to various bacterium that cause pneumonia
- Lifestyle: smoking, drinking and not getting enough proper care for one’s self can increase risk
- Medical: in addition to dysphagia, people who cannot cough, have been sedated, are sedentary or have had certain illnesses are at higher risk
- Hospitalization: people who are already sick, stuck in a hospital bed and taking certain medications are also at risk.
What are the Symptoms?
In milder cases, there may be limited or even no symptoms until the infection gets more severe. In most cases though, there are a number of symptoms that are evident right away.
These include: (3)
- Fever of at least 100 degrees
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest pain which can be made worse by excessive coughing
- A productive cough which may produce thick, green mucus
- Extreme fatigue
- Altered vital signs including respiratory rate and heart rate
- Sore throat
When Should You See a Doctor?
For most people, the earliest stages of pneumonia can feel like a terrible cold or flu that just does not improve.
In some cases, cold or flu could be what causes pneumonia to develop.
As you get sicker and weaker, the infection begins to grow and fluid starts to accumulate in your lungs making it harder to breathe properly. Without enough oxygen your body starts to have problems with even basic functions which can make you feel even worse.
Most people cannot go to the doctor every time they have a cold or flu nor should they. In most cases the common cold only needs comfort care measures and time, not medical intervention.
However, if you fall into the categories of those with the highest risk factors or you meet other conditions, you should see a doctor right away.
According to the Healthline, a doctor should be consulted in the event of the following: (4)
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Fever that is not controlled with medication
- Symptoms that worsen over time
- Illness that lasts more than a week
You should note that any time there is chest pain it can indicate a medical emergency and should be viewed as a more serious warning sign.
Treatment of pneumonia depends on a number of factors including age and health status of the patient, type of pneumonia involved (viral vs. bacterial, for instance) and length of illness.(5)
A normally healthy person who has been sick for more than a week may need to be treated at the hospital for a few days while someone in similar condition that has only been sick for a few days may be treated at home with the proper medications and rest.
People in the higher risk groups are almost always treated as inpatients so that they can be more closely monitored. Admission to the hospital may also ensure that stronger medications can be given if needed.
At home treatment will typically involve the use of medications to treat the underlying infection, a fever reducer, a pain reliever and in some cases, medications to help with sleep.
Most people will not be given a cough suppressant as the goal will be to get the infection up and out of the lungs as quickly as possible.
Coughing serves an important function as it loosens and expels the fluids that are accumulated in the lungs. It is important to note that unless the pneumonia is determined to be caused by a bacteria, antibiotics will not help.
Even if the course of treatment is going to be done solely at home, it is important to have a doctor’s diagnosis so that you are not taking medications that are doing very little to help the condition.
Hospitalization will include stronger medications and may also add extra oxygen, delivered through a nasal cannula or a face mask.
Breathing treatments, which involve special, vaporized medications may also be used especially where breathing is already compromised. Intravenous medications may also be administered which allows for higher doses of common medications or stronger drugs to be used.
Additionally, the hospital may use a respiratory team to improve and increase lung function as part of the day to day treatment of pneumonia patients.
How Long Will Bilateral Pneumonia Last?
The type of pneumonia you have, your general health and the severity of the disease may impact how quickly you recover. In most cases, the bacteria, virus or fungus will be dead long before the majority of the symptoms are gone.
For many people, the fatigue will be the symptom that will last the longest as the body recovers from its difficult fight.
Jill U. Adams, writing for the Washington Post recounts her own struggle with pneumonia which echoes information found in several studies.(6) Being ill reduces appetite so the body does not get the nutrition it needs. Coughing prevents restful sleep.
The immune system must work hard to kill the invading organism and then must rebuild, working with reduced capabilities because nutrition is compromised. It can become a cycle which may lead to relapse especially in someone who is young and wants to get back to work and normal activities before the body is actually ready to do so.
Rest is one of the most important keys to home care and extends beyond the actual illness phase.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) pneumonia accounts for nearly twenty percent of the deaths of children under the age of 5 worldwide.(7)
While pneumonia can be prevented through vaccination programs and access to proper nutrition, it remains an ongoing problem.
Worse, while bacterial pneumonia can be treated with antibiotics, only about 1/3 of the children affected ever get them.
More statistics related to bilateral pneumonia from the New York Times: (8)
- Between 5-10 million people are diagnosed with pneumonia every year
- About 1 million of those people will need to be hospitalized for treatment
- Pneumonia is the 3rd leading cause of hospitalizations in the US
- As many as 70,000 people die from pneumonia every year
- For those who are hospitalized as many as 25% will never recover
- If you develop pneumonia while at the hospital for another reason the risk of dying is increased to 70%
- Women are at a slightly higher risk of dying from hospital acquired pneumonia than men are.
While bilateral pneumonia is uncomfortable and can be very serious, it is also manageable when diagnosed and treated properly.
If you are in one of the higher risk groups, it is always important to closely monitor your health condition and to see your health care provider if you are concerned that you may have pneumonia.
As with any preventable disease there are several steps that you can take to reduce your risk.
- Stop smoking
- Do not drink excessive amounts of alcohol
- Eat a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Get enough sleep
- Try to get some type of exercise every day
- Reduce your exposure to certain chemicals and fumes
- Use care when you are in health care settings that can increase your risk to bacteria and fungi
- Get a pneumonia vaccine as directed especially if you are in a high risk group
It is also important to watch for the signs and symptoms of pneumonia especially if you have been around someone who is sick or if you are currently sick yourself.
These are the important warning signs:
- Coughing, especially a productive cough with thick, green phlegm
- Chest pain
- Breathing issues such as shortness of breath.
- Extreme fatigue
Important: Always seek immediate medical assistance if you have sudden onset chest pain or chest pain that seems to be getting worse with time.
Finally, it is important to take all medications as directed and to rest as much as possible so that your body can get its strength back.