Pneumonia - symptoms, causes and treatment

Pneumonia - symptoms, causes and treatment

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Pneumonia is a common disease - and, what many do not know, the infection that most often leads to death in Germany. 500,000 people fall ill in this country every year, and every third person affected has to go to a hospital.

Pneumonia - the most important facts

  • Definition: In the case of pneumonia, the alveoli and / or lung tissue close.
  • Causes: Pneumonia can be caused by bacteria, viruses or fungi, but also by dust, gas or metal vapor, foreign bodies or tumors.
  • Symptoms: High fever, difficulty breathing, cough with brown sputum, chills and weakness.
  • Course: Pneumonia is usually over after three weeks, but can lead to complications.
  • Possible complications: Meningitis, inflammation of the heart, pleurisy as well as lung infections and water retention. Some of them can end in death.

What does pneumonia mean?

Pneumonia occurs when the alveoli and the lung tissue are blocked and the gases produced during breathing can no longer be exchanged. The cavities, without which gas exchange cannot take place, are compressed by pus and water.

Pneumonia - symptoms

Above all, typical for bacterial inflammation (e.g. due to pneumococci)

  • Fever,
  • Chills,
  • to cough
  • and difficulty breathing.

The fever rises to 40 degrees. Those affected feel weak, their pulse rate increases because the organism tries to compensate for the reduced supply of oxygen by breathing faster. Lips and nail beds turn bluish due to the lack of oxygen. Those affected cough, with the expectoration turning rusty in color at an advanced stage.

Important: Pneumonia can be very different, not all symptoms occur at the same time or some symptoms can be completely missing.

If left untreated, the fever drops after the first week and the pulse rate slows down. If the course is favorable, the acute illness is over after a further one to two weeks, but the feeling of weakness and lighter problems with breathing can continue for a while. But be careful: Without antibiotics, a favorable course is not guaranteed and deaths are still possible today.

Pneumonia pain

Shortness of breath and coughing cause pain in the airways, back and chest. The high fever associated with pneumonia is associated with body aches and a feeling of heaviness in the arms and legs. However, pneumonia can also be painless.

Cold pneumonia

Sometimes there is atypical pneumonia, which is also referred to as "cold pneumonia", because it is accompanied by no or only a slight fever. This form of pneumonia is caused in most cases by viruses, chlamydia, legionella and mycoplasma and develops significantly more slowly than pneumococcal pneumonia.

Headache and body aches are often in the foreground, but chills, shortness of breath and cough are only mildly pronounced. The cough is dry and no mucus is coughed up like in a classic pneumonia.

How does pneumonia develop?

The alveoli usually become infected through invaded pathogens, especially bacteria, but also viruses, parasites and fungi. Gas, dust or jets can also be used to trigger pneumonia. A tumor that obstructs the bronchi or foreign objects that have penetrated can also lead to inflammation. Aspiration pneumonia is a special case. This is where food porridge, stomach acid or contents get into the trachea and from there into the lungs. This can also lead to an infection.

Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Most pneumonia spreads through droplet infections, for example when one infected person sneezes and another inhales the germs present in the droplets. But pneumonia is not highly contagious. The fact that you carry pathogens does not necessarily mean that you fall ill.

There is an increased risk if your immune system is already weakened, whether due to autoimmune diseases, an operation that has passed or an existing infection. Self-infection is also possible: if you already have an infection in the mouth, you may infect the lungs by getting your own saliva into the trachea.

Contagion - outpatient or in the hospital?

In most cases, it is community-acquired pneumonia (CAP). This means that the patient contracted pneumonia in everyday life in a private or professional environment.

The CAP differs from pneumonia that was acquired during a hospital stay (English: hospital-aquired pneumonia, short: HAP). Usually the pathogens are different. At home or at work, people mainly contract bacteria such as pneumococci or pathogens such as the flu virus, which then lead to inflammation of the lungs.

In the hospital, patients in the intensive care unit are particularly at risk. In these, the immune system is usually weakened by serious illnesses, so that pathogens have an easy time of it. Therapies also increase the risk of inflaming the lungs, for example a tube in the trachea that prevents it and the bronchial tubes from cleaning themselves and coughing up pathogens. In the clinic there are also problematic pathogens such as staphylococci or enterococci, with which we come into contact less frequently in everyday life.

Other causes of pneumonia

Infectious agents are only part of the possible causes. Gas, dust or metal vapor can also cause pneumonia. For example, the effects of asbestos are known. Ionizing rays in cancer treatment also promote pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism or blood congestion due to left ventricular insufficiency also prepares the breeding ground for pneumonia, as well as foreign bodies or tumors that close the bronchi.

Aspiration pneumonia

Aspiration pneumonia is a special form of pneumonia. This is where the inflammation occurs because the contents of the stomach, stomach acid or porridge reach the lungs through the trachea. This happens very rarely in healthy people, for example when vomiting and then inhaling. We usually cough up the particles.

Unconscious people and people suffering from swallowing disorders are particularly at risk. Such disorders affect patients after a stroke, people with Parkinson's, multiple sclerosis sufferers, people with traumatic brain injury or a brain tumor. Mouth and throat can no longer be moved enough here, and the swallowing reflex often no longer works. Inhaled gastric acid can directly burn the tissues of the lungs, while food porridge favors infection rather than immediate damage.

Pneumonia in the child

Although the pathogens of pneumonia constantly "surround" us, it rarely breaks out in healthy people. Because our immune system usually fends off the germs effectively. Infants, the elderly and the sick are particularly at risk if their immune defenses are not yet developed, weakened or weakened by the disease.

Infants under the age of three are also among the risk groups who, firstly, quickly become infected with pneumonia and, secondly, who develop it more severely than adults with a strong immune system. The immune system is particularly restricted by diabetes, alcoholism and other drug addictions, but also by cortisone, chemotherapy drugs or immunosuppressants.


Pneumonia can be much more difficult without treatment or through the procrastination of the disease and through co-illnesses. Typical complications are:

  • Additional inflammation of the lung,
  • Fluid that collects between the lung and pectoral skins
  • or a lung abscess.

Even worse: the pathogens can spread to other organs and cause blood poisoning. This can lead to death in a short time. Inflammation of the brain or heart as possible consequences are also life-threatening.

Chronic pneumonia

In most patients, the symptoms go away after a few weeks. If the inflammation is still visible on the X-ray after six to eight weeks, the disease has become chronic. People with a general immune deficiency and / or chronic diseases are particularly affected.


Those affected often find it difficult to identify pneumonia, since similar symptoms also appear with a cold. You should see a doctor early because pneumonia treated too late does not have to, but it can end dramatically.

The doctor will let you report first, then listen to the chest. Pneumonia can often be seen in the changed breath. An x-ray of the breast clearly shows whether tissue has been compressed due to inflammation. Blood values ​​also show an inflammatory process, more precisely the number of white blood cells, the speed at which the blood flows and the C-reactive protein. A blood sample provides information about the pathogen, it can also be in the sputum.

These methods of diagnosis are usually sufficient. If the findings and complications are unclear, further examinations follow. Ultrasound shows an accumulation of fluid. Imaging procedures show the location and extent of the inflammation. Bronchoscopy indicates tumors such as foreign bodies in the airways.

Pneumonia - duration

If pneumonia is treated by a doctor, it usually heals in two to three weeks. However, if the infection has spread, the pus forms abscesses in the lungs or the pleura ignites, then the healing process takes considerably longer.

Pneumonia - treatment

Treatment of infectious pneumonia depends on the pathogen. Antibiotics help with bacteria. The severity of the illness, the supply situation at home, the age and a possible alcohol addiction, concomitant diseases and immunodeficiency determine whether those affected can stay at home or receive care in the hospital.

Affected people should take care, especially in the case of pneumonia, the body has to regenerate itself, and it is better to be off sick for a week than for a week too short. Relapse occurs particularly quickly in pneumonia, which is usually much more severe than the initial illness.

Loosen mucus

If mucus is stuck in the lungs, it helps to inhale table salt with hot water so that you can cough up. If this does not work, the medical staff can aspirate the bronchi. Tapping on the back with the palm of your hand also helps.

Treatment of non-infectious pneumonia

Here the therapy depends on the cause. If, for example, a foreign body triggers the inflammation, it has to be removed - usually the doctor inserts the tool through the windpipe.

Medicinal plants for pneumonia

Medicinal plants that relieve the symptoms of pneumonia or even suppress the inflammation

  • Thyme,
  • Jaw,
  • Spruce,
  • Eucalyptus,
  • peppermint
  • and chamomile.

You can get eucalyptus as candies, extracts or tinctures in pharmacies and drugstores. You can prepare peppermint and chamomile as teas for sale or pull them on the windowsill. You can collect pine and spruce needles yourself or buy them as finished extracts in pharmacies. Not only a tea with pine and / or spruce helps against pneumonia, but also a hot full bath in which you can either add extract or a handful of needles.

Natural anti-inflammatories include ginger, turmeric (turmeric) and honey. Citrus fruits also provide vitamins. Hot teas with ginger, turmeric, lime juice and sweetened by honey are excellent for relieving pneumonia. In Japan, there are mixtures of traditional medicinal herbs that have been scientifically proven to be effective against pneumonia - at least in mice.

Mucus and antispasmodic counteract the severe cough in pneumonia. You can mix or buy teas with such plants yourself. Well suited are:

  • Ribwort,
  • Sage,
  • dried mullein flowers,
  • Coltsfoot,
  • Oregano,
  • Aniseed,
  • Wild mallow,
  • Marshmallow roots
  • and soaked sesame or flax seeds.

You can also rub thyme and sage oil on the chest or inhale extracts of these herbs over hot steam.

Naturopathy and holistic medicine

Naturopathy and holistic medicine cannot replace conventional treatment for pneumonia, but they can complement it. Often there is still a scientific proof of effectiveness here - but since alternative healing methods have proven their worth many times to relieve symptoms such as fever, we would like to present them in more detail below. However, in the event of pneumonia, it is essential that you discuss complementary medical measures with the doctor treating you.

You can counteract the high fever and the associated pain in the limbs with some pneumonias with wraps that are soaked in lukewarm water. You can wrap these wraps around your calves and / or around your chest.

Put damp towels on the heater to increase the humidity, because too dry air increases the symptoms. Drink enough in the acute stage of the disease, especially herbal teas and hot vegetable broth. So you stay strong and do not weaken the organism even more. Dried out mucous membranes override the immune system there. Keep yourself warm. For example, wear a wool hat in the apartment and turn on the heating.

Refrain from mental or physical exertion. Take a rest. Take a smoking break of several weeks, and if you cannot do this due to heavy dependency, then you should not smoke for at least eight hours a day. This is how long it takes the bronchi to cleanse themselves.

There are no meaningful studies available on the use of homeopathy for pneumonia and other lung diseases such as pulmonary fibrosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer or pulmonary hypertension. Studies on acupuncture treatment have shown positive effects in COPD, but they are still pending for pneumonia.

Prevent pneumonia

The best prevention is to strengthen the immune system. Long outdoor walks are suitable for this, and they do so regularly. If possible, refrain from smoking or at least restrict it. You can protect yourself against serious complications (but not the inflammation itself) by getting pneumococcal and Haemophilus influenzae B vaccinations, which can be the consequence of pneumonia. (Dr. Utz Anhalt)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.


  • Ewig, Santiago (ed.): Community-acquired pneumonia, Springer, 2015
  • Pulmonologists online: pneumonia (available on November 22, 2019), pulmonologists online
  • Lung information service at the Helmholtz Zentrum München: pneumonia (available on November 22, 2019), lung information service
  • German Society for Pneumology and Respiratory Medicine (DGP), Paul Ehrlich Society for Chemotherapy, German Society for Infectious Diseases, Competence Network CAPNETZ, the Austrian Society for Pneumology, Austrian Society for Infectious Diseases and Tropical Medicine, Swiss Society for Pneumology: Treatment of adult patients with outpatients acquired pneumonia and prevention, S3 guideline, update 2016, S3 guideline
  • Suzuki, Masao; Muro, Shigeo; Ando, ​​Yuki et al .: A Randomized, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Acupuncture in Patients With Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), in: Archives of Internal Medicine, 172 (11): 878-886, June 2012, JAMA Network
  • Lee, Mi Suk et al .: Guideline for Antibiotic Use in Adults with Community-acquired Pneumonia, in: Infection & Chemotherapy, 50 (2): 160-198, June 2018, icjournal
  • Iwasaki, K. et al .: Effects of Qing Fei Tang (TJ-90) on aspiration pneunomia in mice, in: Phytomedicine, Volume 6 / Issue 2: 95-101, May 1999, ScienceDirect

ICD codes for this disease: J12, J13, J14, J15, J16, J18, J69, P23ICD codes are internationally valid encodings for medical diagnoses. You can find yourself e.g. in doctor's letters or on disability certificates.

Video: Pneumonia: types, causes, and treatment (December 2022).