The word pneumonia means "infection of the lung." While pneumonia was extremely dangerous in past generations, today most children can recover from it easily if they receive proper medical attention.
Most cases of pneumonia follow a viral upper respiratory tract infection. Pneumonia also can be caused by bacterial infections. Also, if a viral infection has irritated the airway enough or weakened a child's immune system, bacteria may begin to grow in the lung, adding a second infection to the original one.
Certain children whose immune defenses or lungs are weakened by other illnesses, such as
cystic fibrosis, asthma, or
cancer may be more likely to develop pneumonia. Children whose airways or lungs are abnormal in other ways may have a higher risk.
Because most forms of pneumonia are linked to viral or bacterial infections that spread from person to person, they're most common during the fall, winter, and early spring, when children spend more time indoors in close contact with others. The chance that a child will develop pneumonia is not affected by how she is dressed or by air temperature on cold days.
Signs & symptoms of pneumonia in children
Like many infections, pneumonia usually produces a
fever, which in turn may cause sweating, chills, flushed skin, and general discomfort. The child also may lose her appetite and seem less energetic than normal. Babies and toddlers may seem pale and limp, and cry more than usual.
When pneumonia is caused by a virus, usually there is no specific treatment other than rest and the usual measures for fever control. Cough suppressants containing codeine or dextromethorphan should not be used, because coughing is helpful in clearing the excessive secretions caused by the infection. Viral pneumonia usually improves after a few days, although the cough may linger for several weeks.
Because it is often difficult to tell whether the pneumonia is caused by a virus or by a bacteria, your pediatrician may prescribe an
antibiotic. All antibiotics should be taken for the full prescribed course and at the specific dosage recommended. You may be tempted to discontinue them early, but you should not do so—some bacteria may remain, and the infection might return unless the entire course is completed.
Prevention: the pneumonia vaccine
Your child can be vaccinated against
pneumococcal infections, a bacterial cause of pneumonia. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that all children starting at 2 months of age receive this immunization (called
pneumococcal conjugate or PCV13).
A series of doses needs to be given at 2, 4, 6, and 12 to 15 months of age, at the same time that children receive other childhood vaccines.
If your child did not receive the first doses at the recommended times, talk to your pediatrician about a catch-up schedule. One dose of PCV13 should be given to all healthy children who are aged 2 through 5 years who have not previously received their recommended doses before the age of 2 years and to children aged 2 years through 18 years with certain underlying medical conditions who have not previously received a dose of PCV13.
Another pneumococcal vaccine (pneumococcal polysaccharide or PPV23) also is recommended for older children (2 through 5 years of age) who have a high risk of developing an invasive pneumococcal infection. These include children with:
It's also recommended for children taking medications or who have diseases that weaken their immune system. Some children with certain underlying medical conditions may need a second dose of pneumococcal vaccine given at lease 8 weeks later.