Pneumonia in Children: Identifying Symptoms & Seeking Treatment
The winter months are full of illnesses we all try to protect our children from, like the flu or RSV, but many parents forget about the complications or infections that can develop alongside. Sometimes, these infections can be worse than the initial illness, possibly requiring medical intervention. When a child is sick with an upper respiratory infection, they could be at risk of developing pneumonia.
What is Pneumonia?
Pneumonia is an infection of the lungs that causes the air sacs to fill up with pus or fluid, making it more difficult for necessary oxygen to get into the bloodstream. The infection can result from various germs, like viruses, bacteria, fungi or parasites, although the most common cause is viral. Common viruses that could result in pneumonia include adenoviruses, influenza, and RSV.
Symptoms of Pneumonia
The symptoms of pneumonia will be different depending on the child’s age and what may have caused the pneumonia. If it’s caused by bacteria, the child will become sick quickly with a sudden high fever and fast breathing. Cases caused by a virus will progress gradually and less severely and you may hear the child wheezing. Other symptoms for either type of pneumonia include:
- Very fast breathing (some cases of pneumonia will only present with this symptom)
- Grunting or wheezing while breathing
- Working hard to breathe
- Nostrils flaring
- Belly breathing
- Movement of the muscles between the ribs
- Stuffy nose
- Shaking and chills
- Chest pain
- Belly pain caused by coughing or working hard to breathe
- Lowered activity level
- Loss of appetite (older children) or poor feeding (infants) which can cause dehydration
If the child is experiencing an extreme case of pneumonia, their lips and fingernails may have a bluish or grey color. Although this infection is within the lungs, a child may not present breathing problems if it is present in the lower portion near the abdomen.
Diagnosing and Treating Pneumonia
A doctor can determine if a child has pneumonia by performing a simple exam. They will observe their appearance and breathing, check vital signs, and listen to the lungs for abnormalities. While this is often enough for a diagnosis, they may order a chest x-ray or blood tests for confirmation.
If the pneumonia infection is caused by a virus, there are no medications that can be taken as a cure. Treatment will simply be managing symptoms and keeping the child rested and hydrated until it passes. If caused by bacteria, oral antibiotics will most likely be prescribed. Hospital treatment may be required if the child:
- Has a lasting fever
- Is experiencing difficulty breathing and requires oxygen therapy
- Has a lung infection that has possibly spread to the bloodstream
- Has a chronic illness affecting the immune system
- Is vomiting so much they are unable to take oral medications
- Keeps getting pneumonia
- May have whooping cough
Depending on the cause, a pneumonia infection could last for 4-6 weeks. If your child is having trouble breathing, is breathing quickly, has a bluish or greyish hue to their fingernails or lips, or has a fever of 102°F or higher (100.4°F or above in babies under 6 months), call your doctor right away.
Generally, pneumonia is not contagious, but the bacteria or virus that initially caused the infection is. However, sharing eating utensils or drinking glasses and touching used tissues from a person with an infection could cause it to spread. Be sure to practice good hygiene and wash your hands frequently. If anyone is presenting symptoms of a respiratory infection, it is best to keep your children away.
There are also vaccines that will help prevent certain types of pneumonia. Even getting an annual flu shot can help protect against a pneumonia infection as it helps lower the risk of complications.
If your child is showing signs they may have a pneumonia infection, visit us at our Midwest Express Clinic location in Skokie, Illinois. Having a child who is sick is difficult, especially when he or she is unable to express how they feel. As the former Children’s Urgent Care, our team has experience diagnosing and treating illnesses like pneumonia in kids. We offer convenient hours with no appointment necessary, so stop in and let us help your child start feeling better soon.