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Pneumonia In Children

What is pneumonia in children?

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs. Often, pneumonia begins after an infection of the upper respiratory tract (nose and throat). This causes fluid to collect in the lungs, making it hard to breathe.


What causes pneumonia in children?

Pneumonia can be caused by different types of germs, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites. Viruses are usually the cause of pneumonia in children. Children with viral pneumonia can also develop bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia can also occur if foreign material, such as food or stomach acid, is inhaled into the lungs.

What may increase the risk for pneumonia in children?

  • Premature birth

  • Breathing secondhand smoke

  • Asthma or certain genetic disorders, such as sickle-cell anemia

  • Heart defects, such as ventricular septal defect (VSD), atrial septal defect (ASD), or patent ductus arteriosus (PDA)

  • Poor nutrition

  • A weak immune system

  • Spending time in a crowded place, such as a daycare center

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia in children?

The signs and symptoms depend on what caused the pneumonia and the age of the child. The signs and symptoms of pneumonia caused by bacteria usually begin more quickly than a viral infection. Your child may have one or more of the following:

  • Cough, usually with yellow or green mucus

  • Fever

  • Crying more than usual, or more irritable or fussy than normal

  • Poor appetite

  • Loose bowel movements

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing

  • Pale or bluish lips, fingernails, or toenails

How do I know if my child is having trouble breathing?

  • Your child's nostrils open wider when he breathes in.

  • Your child's skin between his ribs and around his neck pulls in with each breath.

  • Your child is wheezing, which means you hear a high-pitched noise when he breathes out.

  • Your child is breathing fast:

    • More than 60 breaths in one minute for newborn babies up to 2 months old

    • More than 50 breaths in one minute for a baby 2 months to 12 months old

    • More than 40 breaths in one minute for a child older than 1 year

How is pneumonia in children diagnosed?

  • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.

  • Chest x-ray: This is a picture of your child's lungs and heart. Caregivers may use this to look for signs of infection (such as pneumonia) or other problems.

  • Sputum culture: These tests are used to look for germs in your child's spit or in the mucus your child coughs up.

How is pneumonia in children treated?

Many children can be treated at a doctor's office and at home. If the pneumonia is severe, a caregiver may want your child to stay in the hospital for treatment. Trouble breathing, dehydration, high fever, and the need for oxygen or medicines are reasons to stay in the hospital.

  • Medicines: Your child will usually need to take antibiotics if he has bacterial pneumonia. Viral pneumonia will usually go away without antibiotics.

  • Your child may need extra oxygen if his blood oxygen level is lower than it should be. Your child may get oxygen through a mask placed over his nose and mouth or through small tubes placed in his nostrils. Ask your child's healthcare provider before you take off the mask or oxygen tubing.

How can pneumonia in children be prevented?

  • Your child may be able to take preventative antibiotics if he has been exposed to pneumonia or if he has weak immune system. Ask your child's caregiver for information.

  • Do not let anyone smoke around your child. Smoke can make your child's coughing or breathing worse.

  • Get your child vaccinated against viruses or bacteria that cause infections such as pneumonia.

  • Keep your child away from people with a cold.

  • Wash your hands and your child's hands often with soap to prevent the spread of germs.

  • Do not let your child share food, drinks, or utensils with others.

What are the risks of pneumonia in children?

The risks of serious illness or death are small if you follow your child's caregiver's advice. If left untreated, pneumonia can be life-threatening.

When should I contact my child's caregiver?

Contact your child's caregiver if:

  • Your child has a fever.

  • Your child cannot stop coughing.

  • Your child is tugging at his ears or has ear pain.

  • Your child has diarrhea or is vomiting.

  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

When should I seek immediate care?

Seek care immediately or call 911 if:

  • Your child is under 3 months old and has a fever.

  • Your child is struggling to breathe or wheezing.

  • Your child's lips or nails are bluish.

  • Your child's skin between the ribs and around the neck pulls in with each breath.

  • Your child has any of the following signs of dehydration:

    • Crying without tears

    • Dizziness

    • Dry mouth or cracked lip

    • More irritable or fussy than normal

    • More sleepy than usual

    • Urinating less than usual or not at all

    • Sunken soft spot on the top of the head if your child is less than 1 year old

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your child's care. Learn about your child's health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your child's caregivers to decide what care you want for your child. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2014 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.

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