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What is Double Pneumonia?

By Amanda R. Bell
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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While the term "double pneumonia" used to refer to either acute lung injury (ALI) or acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), it is commonly used today to describe pneumonia that affects both lungs. This condition is fairly common and occurs when tissue inside the lungs fills with fluid and becomes infected. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites, although bacteria and viruses are the most common causes.

Double pneumonia typically develops from influenza, adenovirus or respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), or when bacteria such as streptococcus pneumonia are inhaled into the lungs. Symptoms of this illness include fever, trouble breathing, chest pain, vomiting and chills. Once these symptoms are present, doctors typically perform blood tests and X-ray the lungs to determine whether double pneumonia is the cause of the symptoms.

ALI is usually used to refer to all double pneumonia cases and simply means that there has been an injury to the lungs. ARDS, while not occurring in all cases, is more likely when pneumonia affects both lungs. This is because both sides of the lungs being infected leads to less oxygen making it into the blood stream, which makes respiratory distress more likely.

The cause of double pneumonia determines the treatment. Bacterial pneumonia is usually treated with a combination of antibiotics, plenty of fluids and rest. Viral pneumonia is also treated with fluids and rest, though antibiotics are useless in this case. The only medications available for this type of pneumonia are rimantadine and amantadine, and these are only useful if the pneumonia is caused by influenza A. When pneumonia is cause by parasites or fungi, certain medications can be used to destroy the cause, though these depend on the type of parasite or fungus.

While double pneumonia can be fatal, almost 80 percent of patients do not require hospitalization. The other 20 percent of patients, typically the very young or very old, may require lengthy hospital stays and are the most likely to have a fatal outcome. Bacterial double pneumonia is considered the most dangerous, though it does clear up relatively quickly, usually within two to four weeks. Viral pneumonia takes slightly longer because of the lack of available medicine, clearing up completely within four to six weeks.

Double pneumonia, while typically not life-threatening in developed countries, is one of the leading causes of death in underdeveloped countries. If left untreated, it can lead to organ failure, permanent damage to the lungs and even death. Over-the-counter medications have no effect on pneumonia, so those experiencing any symptoms of pneumonia should contact their doctor immediately to determine what treatment is needed.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
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