Pneumonia in babies and children - what to watch for

Written by: Top Doctors®
Published: | Updated: 08/03/2019
Edited by: Top Doctors®

What is pneumonia?

Pneumonia is a type of infection, which causes swelling of the tissue in the lungs. In our lungs, there are small air sacs, which are called alveoli. The alveoli become inflamed, and fill up with fluid. Pneumonia usually occurs because of a bacterial infection, although it can be caused by virus and – in very few cases – fungi. Pneumonia is more commonly contracted in winter, and while it is not normally life-threatening, it is important to be aware of the risks. 

Is pneumonia contagious?

Different kinds of viruses or bacteria can cause pneumonia, so in these cases, pneumonia can be passed from person to person. Most immune systems, however, can fight off the infection, so pneumonia is not as contagious as common wintertime conditions such as flu or colds. 

Who does pneumonia affect?

Pneumonia can affect any age group, but some are more at risk than others. Babies and young children, for example, have more of a chance of developing pneumonia than adults.  

How do I know if my child has pneumonia?

It can be hard to tell if a child has pneumonia, since two of the main symptoms are a fever and cough, which are relatively common in children. Other symptoms are difficulty breathing, tiredness, possible blood in mucus, and diarrhoea or vomiting. In babies, you may notice that the skin is a slight hue of blue, which becomes more visible around the lips. It is very important to see a doctor as quickly as possible in this case. 

How can I help to prevent pneumonia?

As pneumonia is often carried by bacteria or a virus, it is difficult to prevent completely, but parents and caregivers can help by keeping a good level of personal hygiene, both for the child and adult. Washing hands and keeping things like toys and bottles clean is important. Make sure that vaccines are up-to-date, and try to ensure nobody smokes in the home. This can increase the risk of respiratory infection in general. 

What is the treatment for pneumonia like?

When pneumonia is bacterial, antibiotics are usually prescribed. Viruses do not respond to antibiotics – in many cases, the best thing to do is to wait the virus out. You will be advised to let your child rest, and keep them drinking fluids. This is because the fast breathing and fever that pneumonia causes can make the child dehydrated. Medicine may be given, but it is important to consult a doctor on doses and what type of medication is suitable for children, particularly when they are very young. In some cases of bacterial infection, the child may be treated in hospital, where the staff can monitor them and help with breathing. It can take weeks for the child to shake off the cough, but in most cases, pneumonia gets better in the space of a week.


By Topdoctors
Pulmonology & respiratory medicine

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