Pneumonia in Toddlers & Kids: Reasons, Signs & Treatment

Pneumonia in Toddlers and Children

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Gunjan Baweja (Paediatrician)
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The immune system of a growing child is still in its developmental stages, this means that they are susceptible to numerous conditions and illnesses. Some of the toughest conditions to deal with are issues with the lung due to the delicate importance of the organ. One of the conditions that plague the lung is pneumonia which can become fatal if not treated at the right time. The first step to ensure timely treatment is by understanding the condition.

Video: Pneumonia in Children – Signs, Causes & Prevention

What Is Pneumonia?

The lung is made of numerous air sacs known as alveoli, when these air sacs are filled with liquid or puss they become infected. This makes it incredibly hard for your child to breathe normally and it also reduces the amount of oxygen in your body and, in turn, your bloodstream. This type of infection is called pneumonia. This condition can be mild but if not treated can become life-threatening.

Who Are at the Risk of Getting Pneumonia

Due to the under-developed immune systems children under the age of 2 are at risk of getting pneumonia more easily than others. People over the age of 65 are also at risk due to the weakness of their immune system at that age. This, however, doesn’t limit the condition from afflicting those in-between these age groups. Anyone can get this disease.

Types of Pneumonia

There are different types of pneumonia and they all affect the body in different ways.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Of the three types of pneumonia, bacterial pneumonia is considered the most severe version. Those afflicted by bacterial pneumonia develop symptoms very suddenly and may become extremely weak. When bacterial pneumonia begins to spread to a portion of the lung called the bronchi it is called bronchopneumonia. Bacterial pneumonia manifests extremely fast and patients will develop a sudden high fever, cough and their breathing start becoming fast and erratic. They also lose either appetite and become weak very fast. In this type of pneumonia, look out for flared nostrils, blue lips or nails, a sunken chest, abdominal pain, vomiting and diarrhoea.

Bacterial Pneumonia

Viral Pneumonia

This form of infection takes longer to incubate and is easier to treat. It is also less severe than bacterial pneumonia. The viral strain of pneumonia usually shows symptoms similar to a cold and, over time, worsen. This strain of the disease can give a person a fever close to a temperature of 103 degrees Fahrenheit (39 degrees Celsius). Viral Pneumonia, although less serious, can weaken your child’s immune system significantly. The risk of the viral form of this disease is that it leaves your child’s body open to other viral infections and diseases like the flu virus, respiratory syncytial virus, etc.

Walking Pneumonia

An atypical form of pneumonia that is much less harmful than other forms of the infection, walking pneumonia in kids can go unnoticed at times and just resemble a common cold. This form of the disease will not hinder your child too much but can last anywhere from a week to a month and can make your child uncomfortable.

Causes of Pneumonia in Children

There are many causes of pneumonia that can be categorized into three main categories.

The first category of causes is numerous types of viruses. The most common viruses that cause pneumonia are:

  • Influenza
  • Respiratory syncytial virus
  • Cold viruses

The second category of causes is bacteria, the most common bacteria that cause pneumonia are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Mycoplasma pneumoniae

The third category is fungi. Numerous fungi of any origin can cause infections of the lung and cause pneumonia. There are no common fungi that are directly known to cause it. The body can react adversely to a specific type of fungi that can result in pneumonia.

Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia in Kids

There are numerous ways to identify pneumonia. Symptoms of pneumonia in toddlers can be more aggressive but are generally the same as in adults. Here are some of the signs and symptoms of pneumonia:

  • High fever
  • Extreme fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhoea
  • Inflamed windpipe
  • Breathlessness
  • High blood pressure
  • Headache
  • Muscle pain
  • Joint pain

Signs and Symptoms of Pneumonia in Kids

For an accurate diagnosis and further symptoms please consult your primary healthcare physician.

Diagnosis of Childhood Pneumonia

Doctors commonly can diagnose pneumonia through a combination of blood tests and x-rays along with breathing tests done to measure oxygen levels with a device called an oximeter. A routine physical examination is also undertaken. The sooner your child is diagnosed and the treatment has started, the lower the severity and long-term effects of pneumonia.

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

There is no evidence of pneumonia being contagious or being spread from either animal to person or person to person. There is a risk your child can, however, get the bacterial or viral infections which could lead to pneumonia.

Possible Complications

Pneumonia can weaken your immune system immensely. This can lead to numerous side effects as your child’s body becomes susceptible to various types of infection and fevers. In extreme cases, it can cause the organs to shut down. Pneumonia can lead to the lung collapsing or the airways becoming inflamed and thus making breathing a challenge while the fever caused by the infection can lead to an accelerated heart rate or organ failure. Pneumonia if left untreated can be fatal.

How Long Does Pneumonia Last in a Child?

The length of the infection itself can depend on the variant of pneumonia, under the best of circumstances it can last between four days to a week and in the worst-case scenario, it can last up to six weeks.

Treatment of Pneumonia for a Child

Depending on the type of pneumonia your child may have the treatment method varies.  For instance, antibiotics for pneumonia in children are only recommended as a treatment for the bacterial strain of the disease. It is recommended you seek the care of a medical practitioner first as the type of treatment also depends greatly on the condition your child is in, the amount of time that has passed since the symptoms first manifested and the speed of deterioration.

Note: Please ensure all antibiotics are taken for the full length of the prescription period, diseases like the human body, learn to adapt, this means not taking the full course could make the bacteria immune to the antibiotics and lead to a mutant strain of pneumoniae bacteria that could become dangerous.

How to Take Care of Your Child at Home

Under most circumstances the viral and walking strains of pneumonia will not require medication but if severe enough may require medical attention. In most cases, the disease can be fought from home. Here is what you need to do for your child:

  • Keep them in open airy spaces
  • Keep them dressed comfortably
  • Ensure you keep them hydrated
  • They will lose their appetite, ensure they eat to keep their energy levels up
  • Keep in contact with your doctor and regularly update him on your child’s condition
  • Treat the fever symptoms with paracetamol and cold packs
  • Treat a sore throat with warm drinks
  • Visit the doctor or have them perform a house call every 3-4 days

How to Take Care of Your Child at Home

Ensure you make a note of your child’s status, new symptoms and any changes in condition. Inform your doctor about all these changes, if they feel your child is sick to the extent that they need to be kept in the hospital for observation, admit them. This is not irregular as children can have a weaker immune system, the doctors will treat them the same as you would at home but in case of deterioration, they will be able to act faster than they would be able to if your child was at home.

How to Prevent Your Child From Getting Pneumonia

Here are a few preventive measures for pneumonia you can take for your child:

  • Ensure your child’s vaccines are up-to-date
  • Ensure their hygiene practices are healthy
  • Ensure they aren’t exposed to harmful chemicals and tobacco.

When Do You Need to Consult a Paediatrician?

As soon as possible. It is recommended that you see a doctor and get diagnosed immediately after the symptoms begin to manifest. If it is the bacterial strain, the faster you start medications the better. As mentioned before, severe pneumonia in children can become fatal if left untreated or unattended. Please consult your doctor swiftly if any symptoms begin to show.

Pneumonia can be a challenging disease to manage but if done early and with care, a fatal outcome can be avoided. Ensure your child is always hydrated, well-nourished and that you follow the doctor’s instructions for their care. Fighting pneumonia can be a month-long battle, ensure you stay vigilant and attentive as much as possible, ask for your partner and family or friends to help with taking care of the child so you may rest as well.

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