A doctor listens to an older man's breathing with a stethoscope

Is Pneumonia an Emergency?

Like many common illnesses, pneumonia is typically simple to treat. However, under certain circumstances, this illness has the potential to develop into more severe conditions. Learn about pneumonia and what can increase your risk of developing complications so you can be prepared should symptoms arise.

What Is Pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a disease with a variety of causes, including bacteria, viruses, and fungi. This disease occurs when the air sacs in your lungs become infected and potentially fill with pus. It can cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Cough with phlegm or blood
  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sharp chest pain when inhaling
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Confusion
  • Shallow breaths
  • Shortness of breath

With early diagnosis and treatment, most people with pneumonia make a full recovery. However, people with weakened immune systems, children under 2 years old, and adults over 65 years of age are at a higher risk of developing complications from pneumonia. This can also be the case when a person doesn’t receive treatment and bacteria begins to spread outside the lungs.

What Are Potential Complications of Pneumonia?

Prompt treatment of pneumonia is essential because the infection can cause a variety of health complications, including:

  • Bacteremia and septic shock. Bacteremia occurs when bacteria from the initial infection spread into the blood. This can lead to septic shock, which is when the organs don’t get enough blood and oxygen due to extremely low blood pressure.
  • Abscesses in the lungs. An abscess is a painful collection of pus, and those that develop in the lungs can result in painful coughing, fever, loss of appetite, and weight loss.  
  • Pleural effusions. A pleural effusion occurs when fluid builds up between the tissue that lines the lungs and the chest cavity. This can result in coughing, hiccups, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fever.
  • Respiratory failure. Respiratory failure is when the lungs aren’t providing enough oxygen to the blood, which can result in organ failure due to a lack of oxygen.

At the first signs of pneumonia, schedule an appointment with your Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Group primary care physician for a diagnosis and treatment. If you notice more severe symptoms, such as bluish skin, difficulty breathing, or persistent vomiting, immediately seek emergency care. CHI St. Luke’s Health emergency rooms are open 24/7 and conveniently located throughout the Greater Houston area.
 

Sources:
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute | Pneumonia
American Lung Association | Pneumonia Symptoms and Diagnosis
Healthline | Why Pneumonia Can Be Deadly for Some People
Merck Manual | INTRODUCTION TO BACTEREMIA, SEPSIS, AND SEPTIC SHOCK
Merck Manuals | Abscess in the Lungs
MedlinePlus | Pleural effusion
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute | Respiratory Failure