Pneumonia in Children

What is pneumonia in children?

Pneumonia is an infection in the lungs. It can be mild or serious.
Pneumonia is generally more common in children younger than 5 years old.

What causes pneumonia in a child?

Pneumonia is most often caused by bacteria or viruses. Some of these bacteria and viruses can be spread by direct contact with a person who is already infected with them.

Common bacteria and viruses that may cause pneumonia are:

  • Streptococcus pneumoniae
  • Mycoplasma pneumonia. This often causes a mild form of the illness called walking pneumonia.
  • Group B streptococcus
  • Staphylococcus aureus
  • Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).
    This is most often seen in children younger than 5 years old.
  • Parainfluenza virus
  • Influenza virus
  • Adenovirus

Pneumonia may sometimes be caused by fungi.

Which children are at risk for pneumonia?

A child is more likely to get pneumonia if he or she has:

  • Weak immune system, such as from cancer
  • Ongoing (chronic) health problem, such
    as asthma or cystic fibrosis
  • Problems with the lungs or airways

In addition, children younger than
1 year old are at risk if they are around secondhand tobacco smoke. This is especially
true if their mother smokes.

What are the symptoms of pneumonia in a child?

Symptoms may be a bit different for each child. They may also depend on what is causing the pneumonia. Cases of bacterial pneumonia tend to happen suddenly with these symptoms:

  • Cough that produces mucus
  • Cough pain
  • Vomiting or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Fever

Early symptoms of viral pneumonia are the same as those of bacterial pneumonia. But with viral pneumonia, the breathing problems happen slowly. Your child may wheeze and the cough may get worse. Viral pneumonia may make a child more at risk for bacterial pneumonia.

In addition to the symptoms listed above, your child may have:

  • Chills
  • Fast or hard breathing
  • Headache
  • Fussiness

The symptoms of pneumonia may look like other health problems. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is pneumonia diagnosed in a child?

Your child’s healthcare provider
can often diagnose pneumonia with a full health history and physical exam. He or she may
include these tests to confirm the diagnosis:

  • Chest X-ray. This test makes images of internal tissues, bones, and organs.
  • Blood tests. A blood count looks for signs of an infection. An arterial blood gas test looks at the amount of carbon dioxide and oxygen in the blood.
  • Sputum culture. This test is done on the mucus (sputum) that is coughed up from the lungs and into the mouth. It can find out if your child has an infection. It’s not routinely done because it is hard to get sputum samples from children.
  • Pulse oximetry. An oximeter is a
    small machine that measures the amount of oxygen in the blood. To get this
    measurement, the provider tapes a small sensor onto a finger or toe. When the machine
    is on, a small red light can be seen in the sensor. The sensor is painless and the
    red light does not get hot.
  • Chest CT scan. This test takes images of the structures in the chest. It is very rarely done.
  • Bronchoscopy. This procedure is used to look inside the airways of the lungs. It is very rarely done.
  • Pleural fluid culture. This test
    takes a sample of fluid from the space between the lungs and chest wall (pleural
    space). Fluid may collect in that area because of the pneumonia. This fluid may be
    infected with the same bacteria as the lung. Or the fluid may just be caused by the
    inflammation in the lung.