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What is Severe Pneumonia?

By Jami Yontz
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Pneumonia is an infection of the lung tissue caused by a bacterium, fungus, virus or a parasite. Air pockets in the lungs fill with pus and fluid, making breathing and the absorption of oxygen difficult. Severe pneumonia may occur if the condition is left untreated; the infection can travel throughout the blood stream and into other organs. Pneumonia is a severe and life-threatening illness, and those with symptoms should immediately consult with a physician.

Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in the world, and there are more than 50 variations of the illness. A severe case can develop in people who are already susceptible to the illness because of a recent viral infection, if they have lung disease or heart disease, are a smoker or an alcoholic, or if they abuse drugs. The elderly, pregnant women, infants and hospitalized persons are also more at risk to develop severe pneumonia. Doctors can usually hear the fluid buildup in the lungs by simply listening through a stethoscope to a person's breathing.

At first, symptoms of pneumonia can mimic cold or flu symptoms. Severe pneumonia sufferers usually have a high-grade fever of 102 degrees or more for a few days. Muscle aches and soreness may also be present, and patients usually have a severe cough that produces sputum, sometimes with blood in it. Many patients experience alternating sweats and chills, and their skin may acquire a blue or purple tint from the lack of oxygen absorption. The most noticeable difference for sufferers of severe pneumonia is in the difficulty they experience in taking a breath and the chest pain.

Causes of severe pneumonia include various types of bacteria, fungi and viruses. Streptococcus pneumoniae, staphylococcus aureus and legionella pneumophila tend to cause the most severe forms of pneumonia. These bacteria and viruses can cause abscesses to form in the lungs, resulting in severe damage and even lung tissue death.

Necropolis, or the death of the lung tissue, is not the only problem that can occur when severe pneumonia is left untreated for too long or the person’s body does not respond well to antibiotics. Respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome can occur when the lungs are infected as well. Bacteremia also can occur when the blood stream becomes infected with bacteria, which allows the disease to spread throughout the body. Certain types of pneumonia can lead to pleural effusions or empyema, which is when either pus or fluid builds up between the layers of the lung membrane.

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Discussion Comments
By wander — On Aug 31, 2011

@manykitties2 - That is too bad that your grandmother passed away from something unrelated after battling severe pneumonia for so long. I know how tough severe pneumonia can be as my mother currently has it.

Our doctor told us that because my mother is younger, she should have a good chance of a full-recovery. You know how doctors are, they never like to speak with complete confidence, it's always percentages.

I guess we'll just have to keep up with my mom's medications and making sure she is comfortable while she is recovering. She's been lucky enough to stay at home too, thanks to a great local home health care provider.

By manykitties2 — On Aug 31, 2011

My grandmother had severe pneumonia near the end of her life. She was a stubborn woman and refused to stay stuck in a hospital when should could be in her own home.

Unfortunately, even with the nursing service we had visiting her home the pneumonia got so bad that she eventually had to be hospitalized anyway. Luckily, the doctors were able to treat her severe pneumonia so that she was able to regain some normalcy in her life.

Though, as I am sure you know with most elderly people, they tend to have more than one medical issue at a time. My grandmother eventually passed on from a heart attack a short while later.

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