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Pneumonia in Children

What is pneumonia?
Pneumonia (noo-MOH-nyah) 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. Children of any age can develop pneumonia.
Pneumonia is most common in fall, winter and early spring.

What causes pneumonia?

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 a viral
pneumonia can also develop bacterial pneumonia. Pneumonia can also be caused by foreign
material such as food or stomach acid. If these materials are aspirated (inhaled) into the
lungs, pneumonia can develop.

What may put your child at a higher risk of developing pneumonia?

Being born premature (weeks or months early).

Breathing second-hand smoke, such as from parents who smoke.
Having asthma, or having certain genetic disorders such as sickle-cell disease.
Having heart defects, such as ventricular septal defect (VSD), atrial septal defect (ASD), or
patent ductus arteriosus (PDA).

Being malnourished (having poor nutrition).

Having a weak immune system (body defense system).
Staying in a crowded place such as a daycare center.

What are the signs and symptoms of pneumonia?

The signs and symptoms of pneumonia may be different from one child to another. This will
depend on what caused the pneumonia and the age of the child. The signs and symptoms of
pneumonia caused by bacteria usually come on more quickly than a viral infection. Your
child may have one or more of the following:
Cough, usually with yellowish or greenish phlegm.
Crying more than usual, or more irritable or fussy than normal.
Loose bowel movements (diarrhea).
Pale or bluish color of lips, fingernails, or toenails.
Poor appetite or feeding.
Trouble breathing.

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

Their nostrils (openings of the nose) open wider when breathing in.
They may have retractions (pulling in of the skin between the ribs and around the neck with
each breath).
They may be wheezing (high-pitch noise heard when breathing out).
They may be breathing fast:
More than 60 breaths in one minute for newborn babies up to two months of age.
More than 50 breaths in one minute for two months to 12 months old.
More than 40 breaths in one minute for a child older than one year of age.

How is pneumonia diagnosed?

The following tests may help your childs caregiver check for signs of pneumonia:
Blood tests:
You may need blood taken for tests. The blood can be taken from a blood vessel in your hand,
arm, or the bend in your elbow. It is tested to see how your body is doing. It can give your
caregivers more information about your health condition. You may need to have blood drawn
more than once.
Chest x-ray:
This is a picture of your childs 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 sputum.

How is pneumonia treated?

Many children can be treated without having to stay in the hospital. If the pneumonia is
severe, a caregiver may want your child to stay in the hospital for treatment. Troubled
breathing, dehydration, high fever, and the need for oxygen or medicines are reasons to stay
in the hospital. Your child may need extra oxygen to help with troubled breathing.
If your child has a bacterial pneumonia, your child will usually need to take antibiotics.
Antibiotics are not used to treat a viral pneumonia. Viral pneumonia will usually go away
without medicine. Caregivers may have your child take antibiotics if the cause of the
pneumonia is not known.

How can pneumonia be prevented?

Ask your childs caregiver if prophylactic (disease-preventing) antibiotics can be given. Your
child may be offered these if he has been exposed to someone with certain types of
pneumonia or has weak immune system.

Do not let anyone smoke around your child. Smoke can make your childs coughing or
breathing worse.
Have your child vaccinated against infections by viruses or bacteria.
Keep your child away from people with a cold.
Wash your and your child's hands often with soap to prevent from spreading or getting the
You or other family members and friends should not share eating or drinking utensils with
your child.

How do I find support and more information?

Accepting that your child has pneumonia may be hard. You, your child, and those close to
you may feel scared, sad, or angry. These are normal feelings. Talk to your childs caregivers,
family, or friends about your and your childs feelings. Contact the following for more
American Lung Association
61 Broadway, 6th floor
New York City, NY 10006